Episode 5- Silver Screen

Hosts Dr Lisa Interligi and Kristine Christopoulos chat to Ryan Goodwin about the Focus on Ability film festival. In its 14th year, and with films from all parts on the world, entries are 5 minutes long and feature a disability theme. Ryan, Creative Director, talks about the festival’s role in building inclusion, reducing bullying and providing a resource for parents.

Speaker 1: Welcome to Loop Me In, the podcast community for parents and carers on raising children with disabilities. Join presenters, Dr. Lisa Interligi and Kristine Christopoulos and their guests in sharing experiences, information, and support ideas to help children with disabilities flourish. Loop Me In is brought to you weekly on platforms like Apple Podcast, Spotify, and Stitcher, to name a few. You can learn more, connect to the Loop Me In community and listen to more episodes on our website loop-me-in.com.au.

Speaker 2: Today we speak to creative director, Ryan Goodwin about his work with Focus on Ability. Focus on Ability is a short film festival where filmmakers tell a story on film about people with a disability. Welcome, Ryan.

Ryan Goodwin: Thank you very much for having me. I know we’ve been looking at doing this for the last few months, so thank you for your patience. And I’m looking forward to chatting to you both.

Speaker 2: Pleasure. Pleasure. I believe you now in the 14th year of doing these short films, is that right?

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, 14th year and over 2000 entries. And I think we’ve had 40 odd countries participate. So yeah, in 2009, we started the Focus on Ability Film Festival. I work for a company called NOVA Employment, which is a disability employment service based in Sydney. And the CEO Martin Wren came up with the concept of Focus on Ability, so he wanted a to show film festival. We decided to take it to the local Sydney schools that we operated with. So we had 12 schools participate in the first year and they put together some wonderfully creative short films and documentaries. And after the two weeks that we’d put it together, I thought my job was done. But Martin said, “No, this is a fabulous idea.” So we then in the following year opened it up to New South Wales schools and then the year after it was Australian schools. And then we did open entrance and then we did internationally and we’ve had over 2000 films.

We’ve had over 40 countries participate and we’ve been running for 14 years now. So what started off as just sort of a short film festival, just for Sydney-based students, I think we realized that the Focus on Ability concept was one that really resonated with people and was starting to some great outcomes. I mean, for us, we were just wanting people to think of the skills and abilities that people with disability had to help with things like inclusion. And from our side of things, from the employment perspective, we wanted more job opportunities created for people with disability. But there’s been some offshoot effects that have happened. We’ve found that within the schools, that schools that have participated, that the bullying rates have stopped, have drastically reduced. Unfortunately bullying, in general, is terrible and then unfortunately people with disability are more likely to be victims of bullying. So we found with the Film Festival, creating that inclusion and highlighting the skills and abilities and normalizing it all, I think has been a great effect as well.

Speaker 2: I think when you talk about bullying, the short story I watched just before with Maya and Asperger’s. And I think it was just so nice to hear it from her perspective, what her life was like, which was so normal. And so like what any other young girl was doing, she was driving and I guess like she said, it was such a cliche of what we thought Asperger’s was from the movies we watch and not many people might have that insight. So I thought that was an amazing short story.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. And that’s the thing with everything, education and knowledge is power. And I think that people being able to tell their stories, I think I find it’s so brave, the young men and women that we have in the festival that are telling their own stories and really putting themselves out there and using the platform like Maya did to educate and to tell people all about her story. And we loved that film, that film took home a brand new car, it took out the NOVA Employment Choice Award a few years ago. And yeah, it’s a film that I love to show people.

Speaker 2: So tell us how the festival works. You have an idea and briefly tell us how it all works to enter.

Ryan Goodwin: So it’s a short film festival. So films can’t be longer than five minutes. They must have a disability ability sort of theme. We don’t really put too many parameters on that. I mean, over 2000 films and we’ve had, I’ve watched them all and I’m continually amazed by the new concepts that have come up. And it can be a documentary or a short film. So a documentary is a real-life story. And then a short film is a scripted acted piece. So the story could all be about telling about a person’s life with a disability and what they’re achieving and some of the hardships perhaps that they’re going through. Or it could be a scripted short film where people with disability are the actors and they’re having lots of fun with the concept. And then all the films get submitted.

We put all the films up online, up on our website. We have a week-long voting period. So people from all around the world get on and vote. I think last year we had over 250,000 people checking out the films. We’ve got a professional judging panel that also checks out the films and gives their prizes. And then we’ve got some sponsors that give prizes as well. So we’re not in the latest film festival by any means. We’ve got lots of people that have made a film for the first time and taken home prizes. So we like to think it’s inclusive and achievable for everyone to participate.

Speaker 4: And is it just schools that are still making them, Ryan? Or has it opened up to other people?

Ryan Goodwin: So everyone in the world can participate now. So we still have a real good core of schools. So we usually have about a hundred schools participate every year. And then we also have open entrance, so that’s just people within the general community in Australia and then internationally. So over 40 countries have participated this year, I think will be in the twenties. This week I’ve got films from Malawi, Ethiopia, France, New Zealand. And that’s just this week, so it’s exciting times.

Speaker 2: How did you get involved with it?

Ryan Goodwin: So when I was at university, I was in the last year of my studies, and the CEO of NOVA Employment Martin Wren approached the university. He wanted someone to come in and teach them a little bit about video production and bringing stories to life, using video as a medium. I did six weeks there. And then the end of that, we came to an agreement that I would start working for NOVA. And then Martin came up with a concept and said, “Here you go, get this working.” So I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the festival since day one.

Speaker 4: What I love about it is that you can have people with a disability acting. And I don’t know, it kind of allows them to test out their acting chops. And hopefully, that gets translated into mainstream filmmaking that people with a disability can participate in that industry.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. It’s definitely opening doors. I mean, I get contacted quite regularly about roles that have opened up for people with disability in local and international productions. And I’ve put those call-outs to our former participants and they’ve taken up opportunities of being on the big screen.

Speaker 2: And I’m sure they just love that opportunity because they don’t really get it, do they?

Ryan Goodwin: No. Well, I mean, things are definitely improving in that term, but long, long way to go. So as we know that there’s 20% of people in Australia that have a disability. So the representation on screen should be 20%, if we’re going to look at authentic casting and authentic representation in film and television. So I’d love to see the numbers that high. But hats off to some of our networks, ABC has been tremendous. I think they’re really the leaders in this and I hope some of the bigger networks start to achieve it as well.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And Martin Wren, what was his story behind starting this?

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. So Martin Wren is the CEO of NOVA Employment. NOVA Employment is a disability employment service in Sydney. It’s a not-for-profit, it’s a charity. It’s achieving amazing things. Martin started the company 30 odd years ago and he came from a teaching background and he was teaching people with disability the skills needed to get work. But then he was finding once he taught them those skills there wasn’t that service there to help them in the workforce. So he started NOVA. NOVA comes from a really authentic position, they try and achieve jobs that award wages and conditions and higher or higher in the general community as well. So we’re not talking about sheltered workshop positions. We’re talking about positions in the community and positions that can make real meaningful change.

Speaker 4: Yeah, it sounds fantastic. It’s probably an opportunity for a talent agency somewhere along the line there, is it?

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, who knows.

Speaker 4: Who knows? When does the festival actually run? What’s the timeframes for entry?

Ryan Goodwin: So we run every year. Entry’s close, usually mid to end of July and then we put all the films up mid-August. But all the films then live on our website forever. So we’ve got over 2000 films up on the website now. There’s also a searchable database. So if you’ve got a specific interest or disability that you want to search, people can get on there and do that. Which has had some tremendous effects I think. I’ve heard some stories from the children’s hospitals in Sydney that actually utilize the Focus on Ability films to educate some parents that have been put in a situation where they’ve received some news and some diagnosis, and they’re unsure what that means for their child. So then they’ve referred them to some of the films on our website, and that’s really been able to give them education and also hope for the future as well. Because unfortunately, sometimes with those diagnosis you’re getting all these, what people can’t achieve, not necessarily what they can achieve. So that’s all up on our website, focusonability.com.au.

Speaker 4: That’s a fantastic resource.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. Well, it’s the largest disability film resource in the world. And it’s something that, we’ll get another 300 films added to that resource again this year. So people can get on there and check them out.

Speaker 2: And I did ask you what your favorite one was when we were chatting. And you said there were so many and there are. And the one that sort of stood out for me that you sent through was the international one with Shanta Nepali. I hope I’ve said his name right. That was just amazing what he achieved. For people that probably haven’t seen the video, he lost both his legs in the war and then he climbed Mount Everest. I mean, I was just crying through the whole thing. How inspiring was that to just watch, especially when you get a disability when later in life too, I can imagine that could almost be more difficult than having it from birth.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. One beautiful film. I mean, not only his story, but then also the scenery. I think the film location and that’s amazing. But I sent that one through specifically because I think it’s an acquired disability, so it’s nice for people to be able to see that there’s so many different sides to the festival and so many different stories. And it’s inspirational. And I think the word inspiration in the disability community, there’s a real pushback against that word. But the way we’re talking about within this scenario is somebody that’s climbing Mount Everest. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not. If you’re climbing, Mount Everest, I find you very inspiring. So there’s plenty of inspiration in our film festival, I tell you.

Speaker 4: Fantastic. We’ll have to make one with Louis and Matthew. What do you reckon? They’d love to see themselves on film.

Speaker 2: Yeah, Ryan, we both have boys 22 with a disability who love being on the camera, so maybe we’ll have to enter them in.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, I think so. I’m waiting for these entries now. So we’ve got two weeks till entries close for this season. I know that this podcast will go out after that. So hopefully you may be talking about the film that you entered.

Speaker 4: Is there a red carpet?

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah, so the last two years we haven’t, but we’re going back to live events this year. So we’re going to do events all around Australia and then we’ll have a red carpet event again in October. And I mean, in previous years, we’ve had it at some amazing venues. They’re completely free events. So red carpet, we have drinks and canapés. And we’ve put some of the films on the big screen. We give out over a hundred thousand dollars in cash and prizes. And it’s a real celebration.

Speaker 2: Ah, that’s awesome. Well, I can’t wait to see them and we’ll definitely put them all on all our socials, so everyone else can too.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. The more people that share the films the better, that’s kind of how we operate. We operate with people sharing their favorite films online, and that’s how we build our community.

Speaker 2: Well, more power to you, Ryan.

Speaker 4: Mm. Awesome work. Can’t wait to see them. Thank you.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. Well, if anybody wants to be involved. We run the festival every year. They just head to our website. We’re also doing live screening events that are free. So all that will be up on our social media. So people can check them out online or they can come to the events and meet us and have a free lunch as well.

Speaker 2: Great. Awesome. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today.

Ryan Goodwin: Yeah. Thank you very much for having me on the podcast. It’s been wonderful to chat to you both.

Speaker 2: Thanks, Ryan.

Speaker 4: Thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for being part of the Loop Me In community today and joining our conversation on raising children with disabilities. Join us for the next episode on some of your favorite platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. If you would like to support us, please recommend the Loop Me In podcast to your network of parents, carers, and providers. If you would like us to cover a topic or invite a guest to chat, please email us at contact@loop-me-in.com.au, or go to our website at loop-me-in.com.au. If you’ve got any feedback, please let us know so we can improve and cover issues you want. And of course, if anything in the podcast today has raised concerns for you, you can contact Beyond Blue on 1300-22-4636, or Lifeline on 13-1114.

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