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18th February 2005 at 00:00
Jerome Monahan reviews a pack on portrayal of disability

Disabling Imagery? A teaching guide to disability and moving image media

pound;25 inc pp for DVD and Teacher's Pack

Tel: 020 7359 2855


Also see the British Film Institute website:

If there is a single principle governing the invaluable Disabling Imagery? pack it is that teachers should build solid foundations for their students'

understanding of disability before tackling the resource's 21 film sequences on DVD. These are arguably the most valuable parts of the package, making challenging viewing and deserving varying degrees of groundwork to ensure their greatest impact.

Disabling Imagery? is the result of a collaboration between Disability Equality in Education and the British Film Institute.

The pack's writer, Richard Rieser, says: "The resources will be particularly helpful in English, citizenship and media studies lessons. The feedback we have received indicates that teachers really appreciate the chance it provides for them to address an alternative body of media 'representation' beyond the customary gender and race topics that feature so heavily on courses.

"Amazingly, representations of disability remains such a novel subject, given the appalling way they continue to feature in mainstream cinema. In depicting disabled people as individual victims, monsters or supercrips there is no doubt that Hollywood in particular helps perpetuate the medical model over the social model of disability."

Rieser has been surprised how the distinction between these two means of "framing disability" still comes as news to many teachers. "Some of the most positive reactions," he says, "have been in response to the sections that spell out these basics, putting them in a context of cinematic representations, and also the bits that provide generic information about film language and analysis."

The pack includes a helpful crash course in using still and moving image media in the classroom, including eight tips to help unravel film codes and conventions such as types of framing and the power of sound and image in combination.

There is also a helpful set of stills from films as diverse as Born on the Fourth of July and The Elephant Man, ideal for individual deconstruction, or analysis in juxtaposition with other images in the pack. For teachers more experienced in the use of film, there is also plenty to welcome.

Disabling Imagery? comes with an invaluable set of notes providing a clear taxonomy of mainstream movies, documenting the timescale over which many representational cliches have been established, and mapping the conventions that have prevailed in different genres. The casual suggestion that disfigurement or disability suggests a character's inner personality flaws has deep roots in our culture and receives endless re-emphasis, in particular in comic, actionadventure and horror movies.

If Rieser has one regret, it is that clips from mainstream films that are familiar to young people do not feature among the sequences supplied with the comprehensive notes and lesson plans. However, the clips that are provided are a rich stimulus in their own right. There are sequences for students in key stages 2-4, including the hilarious and poignant Cousin, ideal for encouraging students in animation work, and the invaluable set of screen advertisements that were part of the TV and cinema campaign, "See the Person, Not the Disability".

Sequences raising issues about mental illness are thin on the ground. One of the main examples, from Black Dog and Rhythm of Survival, will be challenging for younger age groups, though its poetic mix of images and captions, suggestive of varying states of mind, might inspire students to produce interesting film work in the same style.

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