SHAMELESS: THE ART OF DISABILITY

The first film in 19 years from filmmaker Bonnie Sherr Klein is called Shameless: The Art of Disability and will have its Coast première at the Raven's Cry Theatre in Sechelt on Oct. 29. Its message can perhaps be summed up in three simple words loudly expressed by one of its participants: "Piss on pity."

Klein, interviewed in her Roberts Creek home, is inclined to agree with the sentiment. "This film is our turn to tell our own stories," she says.

Klein has been disabled since a brain stem stroke hospitalized her in 1987 and she has struggled on to a functioning life, a story she described in her book Slow Dance. Persimmon Blackbridge, a multi-media artist with psychiatric issues, was the collaborator on the book, and she turns up again in this engaging film as a kind of muse.

Shameless recounts the stories of each of the five participants, shows an example of their art, hears their authentic experiences and speaks with their partners. They are: Bonnie Klein, filmmaker, David Roche, performance artist with a facial disfigurement, Catherine Frazee, writer, speaker and former human rights worker, Persimmon Blackbridge and Geoff McMurchy, who suffered a diving accident at age 21 and is now a choreographer and KickstART festival artistic director.

Klein met them all through KickstART, a festival for artists with disabilities that launched in Vancouver in 2001 under her leadership. In bringing together this particular group as the basis of a film, she was not striving to provide a statistically balanced sample of society's disabled. She was looking for intimacy with these, her friends, and the kind of honest exchange that would take the viewer beyond seeing only the disability.

It probably couldn't have happened without the time and generous budget of the National Film Board. When Klein and producer Tracey Friesen perused the NFB film library they discovered there were 83 films on file about disability. Not one of them had been made by a disabled person. However, Klein was sure that she wanted the art, rather than the disabilities, to be predominant in this film.

"The film is really about different ways of being human," she says, "the art of living with a disability." Klein knows that people are hungry for this type of film in that they often want to know how they would cope if it happened to them.

"It's not a Pollyanna look," she says. "Our lives are difficult."

There were challenges with the filmmaking. The technology had changed in 19 years, and also, as she points out, her body and brain had changed.

The film takes on a few of the pity icons, specifically the Courage to Come Back Awards with its emotional ceremonies and boxes of Kleenex on every table. "That implies that we'd gone away," says Frazee, "away from where the good people are."

Klein is no stranger to inciting controversy in her films. Her documentary, Not A Love Story, was pivotal in focusing the wrath of an entire anti-pornography movement in the 1980s. Many believed it was the best thing she'd ever done, although she has also made other significant films, Speaking Our Peace and Mile Zero.

Is this the start of the second half of her career?

"No," she laughs. "I'm not planning my next film. I just want to work in my garden and play with my granddaughters." But then she adds, "I could mentor others and I would like to do more front line activism in a real world "

Shameless is a special presentation of the Sunshine Coast Film Society at the Raven's Cry Theatre and screens at a 2 p.m. matinée on Sunday, Oct. 29. Klein will be on hand to answer questions and David Roche will give a performance.

Wheelchair seating should be reserved ahead by calling 604-885-4597. Tickets for this event are sold in advance at Gaia's Fair Trade in Gibsons, the Roberts Creek Health Food Store and Talewind Books in Sechelt. Details are at the Film Society's website: www.scfs.ca.

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