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Silver screen to dispel misconceptions about disability

Nov 14, 2014

‘We Care’ film fest screens films on disability to audiences across India with the aim of changing attitudes and behaviours.

New Delhi: One by one, the school children file into the screening hall, restless, disinterested looks on their faces. The thought of attending a film festival on disability has not enthused them, and the hall is filled with raucous, animated chatter. However, as the lights dim and the film begins rolling, a miraculous change begins to take place. A gradual hush falls over the hall as a portal opens into the world of the disabled and many of the children step through for the first time.

It is a journey that is transfixing and transformative. The children are instantly hooked, and as the film continues, their own engagement with the film and its subject deepens. By the end, the children are raving, clapping and screaming, fully in tune with the anguishes and triumphs of the subject of the film.

This is the power of ‘We Care’ - a film festival that strives to transform young minds on the subject of disability.

‘The children were literally whistling by the end of the film,’ says Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, the Director of the United Nations Information Centre for India and Bhutan, one of the founding partners of the ‘We Care’ film festival. ‘My own eyes were moist and as I looked to the other members of the jury that presided over the film screening, I saw that they too had similar reactions.’

Started in 2003, by the Indian NGO Brotherhood, the ‘We Care’ fest’s mission is to dispel misconceptions and create awareness about disability through the medium of films. It seeks to spread the message that people with disability are ‘people first’ and with the right opportunity can be active participants in society.

To fulfil this goal, the ‘We Care’ festival travels all across India and takes this message to schools, institutes of mass communication and disability related organisations. It puts particular emphasis on the young as they are more impressionable and are the future of society.

‘We believe that cinema is a powerful medium to challenge myths and prejudices existing in the community about disability. We have always catered to various aspects of disability in the films we show since the festival's inception in 2003,’ says Satish Kapoor, Founder Director of Brotherhood and the festival.

The ‘We Care’ festival has also provided a platform for filmmakers who do not fit into mainstream cinema to showcase their views on disability. It gives an opportunity to low-budget producers such as students and NGOs. To broaden the playing field, primacy is given to content and the portrayal of disability rather than technical features such as production quality.

The response has been tremendous. Since 2003, ‘We Care’ has travelled to more than 113 venues across India through 12 years of film screenings. It has also gone global with 5 international festivals hosted in venues such as Paris and Dubai. The government of India has also taken note of it and the Department of Disability Affairs, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the Ministry of Human Resource Development are both involved in supporting the festival.

‘The clapping that comes from the audience comes from the heart,’ says Mehra-Kerpelman. ‘The interactive sessions at the end of the screenings are full of energy and students want to know what they can do about this issue.

This festival is an attempt at showing that people with disability need help, not pity, and can be contributing members of society if they are given the chance. It is about time we stopped treating disability as a marginal issue and mainstreamed it into human rights discourse.’

The 12th edition of the ‘We Care’ festival will be held in New Delhi, from the 24-26 November 2014, at Vigyan Bhavan along with the UNESCO’s international conference ‘From Exclusion to Empowerment: Role of Information and Communication Technologies for Persons with Disabilities’.

A global audience of approximately 1,000, including large numbers of students from mass communication institutes, will be attending the conference and the festival. In addition to film screenings, the festival will have thematic talks and discussions on issues such as the use of ICTs for empowering persons with disability, the role of corporates, civil society and the youth and the portrayal of disability in Bollywood.

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