Women In Film Award-Oska Bright Festival 2024

Written by Janet Chelliah, Kirsty’s Mum

My daughter Kirsty and her friend Jenny whom she has known for 12 years, were in a film together that was shown at the Oska Bright Film Festival on March the 13th at the Brighton Dome, Brighton.

Oska Film festival is the World’s Leading Film Festival involving people with learning disabilities.

Less than 5% of people with learning disability are in the film industry. The aim for the festival is for people with learning disabilities to showcase their talents.

Their film’ ‘A Tale of Swords and Smoke’ was a project by Art Works Sheffield. The director is Michael Strachan Brown, who is a film maker.

Art Works is a social care service for people with learning disabilities. It’s a not-for-profit organisation that enables people with learning disability explore their creative sides. It’s a place of fun and laughter while socialising with others and creating various arts, crafts, photography and film projects.

Kirsty started Art works in Feb 2021. She was meant to start after she finished post 16 education at school in the summer of 2020. However, due to Covid pandemic and her ill health for a couple of years, this was delayed.

To support her return to Art Works, staff visited her at home every Friday for an hour or 2 and did art projects with her. The support given by Art Works helped Kirsty overcome her anxieties and staff were aware of her being clinically vulnerable. She was well looked after at Art Works and now loves being part of the group.

Art works also helped their artists throughout Covid. Crafts, colouring pages and various activities were dropped by our front door weekly.

The first film Kirsty worked on at Art Works was a Christmas film, written by one of the artists, called Give the Gift of Friendship.

A Tale of Swords and Smoke was filmed in March 2023, at Wentworth castle grounds South Yorkshire. The filming crew consisted of staff and various artists with learning disability. Prior to actual filming date, months went into creating the props, including making the dragon, sourcing costumes and putting together the film crew. I remember watching the filming of the final scene, seeing both girls so happy and feeling proud of their achievements.

The crew were working hard in the cold weather. Nick and Michael looked after the actors and crew so well. Making sure there was enough food and drinks and rest time in between filming scenes. Kirsty has been with acting agents since 2018. She has done lots of auditions and successfully been on various advertising websites and a television commercial.

The people she has worked with so far have been great with making reasonable adjustments and allowing time to prepare for auditions and filming.

We were thrilled when we were told the film had been chosen for a film festival in Brighton. I had the privilege of going down for a night, travelling with Jenny’s parents. Our daughters travelled down with staff member Dominika.

There were 4 artists that went along for a 3-night stay in a self-catering accommodation with 2 staff members. The staff fully cared for the artists, and they had a planned programme that involved 2 nights at the festival for the screening and awards night and visited other creative groups, going to the beach and visiting the Brighton Museums.

Kirsty’s uncle Roger showed his support by attending the awards night and texted us to say they had won, ‘Women in Film’ award. I was absolutely delighted and was shouting out with joy when I got the news and saw photos being shared on social media on the festival website.

They had made it as award winning actresses and Art Works has made an award-winning film!

They were featured in our local BBC News Look North Yorkshire. Art Works created a party atmosphere celebrating and giving out awards to show appreciation to everyone involved. Kirsty and Jenny got a lovely card each and flowers. They and staff members were interviewed.

This film was also shown at the Showroom Cinema in Sheffield in Showroom Shorts organised by South Yorkshire Film Makers group. Friends came along to watch it and so did Kirsty’s colleagues from the Odeon and Art works staff.

There needs to be more representation of people with a learning disability in TV and Film. The heroes of this film are 2 young women with Down syndrome.

Jenny and Kirsty along with some of her friends who love the arts are one of the best actors around as their passion shines through as they naturally embrace a character.

The theme for World Down Syndrome Day and Down Syndrome Awareness week was ‘ Stop Stereotypes’ – this film and the attitude of staff from Art Works reflect this perfectly.

Art Works have been nominated for a National Diversity Award – you can vote for them here. Voting closes on May 15th.