Pulling Focus

December 11, 2018
Founded a decade ago in Australia, the Focus on Ability Film Festival hosted its first ever Los Angeles event, attended by plenty of familiar faces.

The groom was left standing at the altar while his bride-to-be ran outside and sat in her car, crying tears of doubt. Her cold feet stemmed from the fact that her groom was different, and that everybody was judging them. Her groom was ‘special’, a 46er… born with just 46 chromosomes. After a pep talk from her brother, the bride eventually dries her eyes, and decides nothing can stand in the way of true love.

It’s one of the many films at this year’s ‘Focus on Ability’ film festival, which gives viewers a new perspective on what’s considered ‘normal’ in society. The switch here of course, being that in this film’s world, everyone has Down Syndrome except the groom-to-be…who’s a ‘46er’.

In its inaugural year screening in LA, and its tenth year overall, the Focus on Ability Film Festival is an event with a message. The criteria for films is that they are either made by, or have strong content focus on someone with a physical or mental handicap.

As the name would suggest, the films which screened this year focused on the ‘Ability’ of handicapped people to shift perspective and focus on what they’re capable of.

The range of films was impressive, with an opening short from Africa (Chances – by Bill Kasandra) giving insight into what it’s like living in a developing nation with a disability, through to the Australian competition winner’s film of how a young man uses his past experience of being bullied to turn the tables on an abusive bus passenger. (Bus Trip – Sebastian Chan).

The impressive lineup of films left the audience without a dry eye – but they were tears of hope and inspiration, not pity or fear.

The event was held at the Writers’ Guild of America screening rooms and the impressive turnout included Australian expat filmmaker Ben Lewin (The Sessions) and his wife producer Judi Levine, filmmaker/actor Brian Donovan (Kelly’s Hollywood) and movie stars such as James Cromwell and Australia’s own soon to be household name Damon Herriman.

Cromwell and Herriman both spoke after the show about how impressed they were with the films and the message each one conveyed.

The Festival was the brainchild of Nova Employment CEO Martin Wren, and with the assistance of Australian actresses Paula Duncan, and Jessica Orcsik, the festival has gone from strength to strength. Now in its tenth year and prizes worth over $140,000 in cash and prizes – it’s the first time Hollywood has had a taste of the festival, but Orcsik says plans to continue to grow the festival are well on track.

“We had a screening in New York and we’re speaking with London for next year,” the co-organiser and actress says. “We want to show the power of film to affect change in the world, that’s basically our festival’s mission statement.”

Australian competition winner Sebastian Chan said he was thrilled with the opportunity the festival had given him. “I never thought my little film shot in Canberra would be playing in Hollywood and giving me a chance to meet so many industry professionals,” Chan said. His prize included four weeks accommodation in Los Angeles, as well as entry to a number of industry events and meetings with LA film professionals.

The Focus on Ability film festival is a festival with a difference. It is an empowering experience to watch the films and to meet the filmmakers and stars. With the call out for next year’s entries not far away, watch this space!

The films are available to view online at: https://www.focusonability.com.au/

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