Bafta faces backlash over withdrawal of disability film

James Macintyre
Friday 08 February 2008 01:00
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Bafta is facing embarrassment over its decision to back out of screening a challenging documentary about disability.

The maker of The Last American Freak Show has accused the British Academy of Film and Television Arts of discrimination after it performed a U-turn over the planned showing, days before the Academy's glamorous film awards at the Royal Opera House.

The film was shot one-handed by the director Richard Butchins, whose arm was paralysed by polio as a child. It is a stark look at disabled people who flaunt their conditions. Filmed over six weeks and following six disabled and four non-disabled people who made up a carnival touring the US, it shows the individuals "perform" in bars and theatres.

Bafta, which helps develop British films throughout the year, had agreed to show the film in a joint event with X'08 – the eighth International Disability Film Festival – at its headquarters on Piccadilly in central London, on 18 February.

Now Mr Butchins has expressed his fury that Bafta has not only pulled out of the profile-raising event but also replaced it with a crude Hollywood comedy, Lars and the Real Girl, about a disabled man's passion for a mail-order sex doll.

On his internet blog, Mr Butchins says Bafta has "freaked out" about the flim and employed a PR company to navigate its way out of the controversy. "Bafta have decided that my film's content is inappropriate for its members to see at an event hosted, and get this, by the London Disability Arts Forum as part of the London Disability Film Festival," Mr Butchins said.

The film-maker claims Bafta eventually admitted its concerns over the film. "Corinna Dowling, head of events at Bafta and the person responsible for the decision, [told] me that the 'aesthetic' of the film was wrong, that it was too explicit, raised too many questions and was too demanding for the event in question," he said.

The director of X'08, Peter Kinkead, said his organisation initially approached Bafta about using its rooms to round-off the film awards with a showing of the film, and Bafta then suggested a combined event. Now, Mr Kinkead says, "It's been terribly difficult to find out exactly what the reason [for the change of plan] is. You wonder if it's about disabled people not behaving in the right way."

But, he aded: "This film is about disabled people reclaiming their identity. They are proud to be freaks."

In a statement, Bafta said: "Bafta have simply not banned Mr Butchins' film as he suggests. Any comments were not a critique on Mr Butchins' work but against a pre-agreed criteria for the subject matter."

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