'The idea that a disabled person should want to have a sex life is still considered fairly taboo, I have found. Non-disabled people don't like to think about it, or at least they aren't confronted by it as an issue, because it's easier for non-disabled people to go to bars, get drunk and cop off even if they find it hard to form lasting relationships. It's just not as easy for someone who has a disability to think ‘right, I fancy a shag I'll go and get laid', or think, ‘right I think I am about ready to get into a relationship with someone now' and really start looking because a lot of disabled people are housebound, rely on care 24 hours a day or simply can't afford to get themselves to a bar that happens to have disabled access and a toilet - and that's assuming they are mentally prepared to be shunned as a person for simply being disabled.'
Clare Richards, Winner, Grierson newcomer award, Director of Disabled and Looking For Love
James MacGregor has been talking to Clare Richards about her remarkable debut documentary which landed a Grierson Newcomer nomination before scooping the Newcomer Award.
Clare Richards has been working her way through TV research and AP jobs gaining experience, but when she started working for a company specialising in filming sensitive issues, her first programme idea resulted in a directing commission and nomination for a Grierson Documentary Award - not a bad result! The film, DISABLED AND LOOKING FOR LOVE is not shy of entering the most personal of territory, but is without question engaging, sensitive and uplifting.
What's your film about?
It's about looking for a partner through the eyes of people who have disabilities to contend with.
Disabled and Looking for Love landed a Grierson nomination - how thrilling was that?
I had no idea that the film would be good enough to be considered for a Grierson until the commissioning editor and my executive producer said they thought it should go in when we delivered it. That was thrilling enough, but now that it has got a nomination I'm totally over the moon. As it's my first film I just wanted to give it my all, do justice to the people who had given of themselves for the film. I wasn't thinking in terms of awards.
You had planned to make a film about blindness - why did you switch to making this film?
I started thinking about relationships and disability when I did a bit of filming with a young man who was blind. I then realised the area of relationships and disability was largely ignored and I started looking more thoroughly into it. I had hoped that the film might include someone who was blind, but it didn't turn out like that.
How did you go about researching for the film?
I trawled through articles, looked at disability websites, got my head round the issues, talked to people. I then found an organisation called The Outsiders who help people with disabilities find relationships which is when I realised I had a film. I met Tuppy who has for 27 years worked tirelessly for nothing to keep the outsiders going. They get no funding even though they provide a service and a network that is absolutely vital to their members - but because it is seen to promote sex for the disabled the funders tend to think there is something wrong with the idea of the organisation.
You get into deeply personal areas; people are talking about their own sex lives and their partners and in this context, that seems very sensitive ground to get onto - did you plan to go there from the outset?
Yes, I think it was important for the film to touch these personal areas simply because, for the most part disabled people haven't been asked these questions before in an open arena. The idea that a disabled person should want to have a sex life is still considered fairly taboo, I have found. Non-disabled people don't like to think about it, or at least they aren't confronted by it as an issue because it's easier for non-disabled people to go to bars, get drunk and cop off even if they find it hard to form lasting relationships. It's just not as easy for someone who has a disability to think ‘right, I fancy a shag I'll go and get laid', or think, ‘right I think I am about ready to get into a relationship with someone now' and really start looking because a lot of disabled people are housebound, rely on care 24 hours a day or simply can't afford to get themselves to a bar that happens to have disabled access and a toilet - and that's assuming they are mentally prepared to be shunned as a person for simply being disabled.
You might even think that because someone has a disability they can't have sex, or isn't interested in it, which may or may not be the case. Without explicitly talking about sex and love the film wasn't going to get to the heart of the issue. Obviously there is a big difference between love and sex. I didn't want to dwell on sex though, the film is about much more than that - I wanted to concentrate on the idea of following people who were looking for that special someone and talk about feeling love and care for someone - it's a universal desire and that was my point.
When I started meeting people who were interested in talking to me about the film I was very open about what the film was about and what I wanted to discuss. People were behind me from the start and there were lots of people interested in being in the film because it's a big issue for disabled people. There are, of course, people with disabilities who don't need an organisation to help them find love, they manage perfectly well on their own, but there are a percentage of disabled people just like there are a percentage of non-disabled people who find it difficult to have relationships and choose to use the help of an organisation.
You took your idea to the Fresh strand on BBC 3 - what was your pitch to them?
Well the pitch was upfront and provocative, not a ‘oh lets talk about sex' way, but in a ‘this is a real issue and lets not be embarrassed about it'; it didn't pull any punches about what it was going to discuss and sensitivity and humour were key to the approach.
What made you choose Clifford, Oldooz, Simon and Nick as your main characters?
Practicality; they were all single and wanted to look for a partner on camera. They had different disabilities, a range of ages and backgrounds, so they were interesting as a group of people. It might sound obvious but I was just drawn to them all as people - I wanted to hang out with them.
How do you draw the line between interest and intrusiveness in following their lives?
That's a very good question. If I was being too intrusive I think people would have pulled out. I never want to film someone who doesn't want to be filmed and I don't harang people into being filmed. At all times, I said, if you are uncomfortable or unhappy, tell me I'll stop. If you are unhappy about something that has been said and don't want to include it tell me and I won't. I talked through exactly what I wanted to do at all times, but would also ask, what do you want me to film, what is important for you to be included - I do really see it as a collaboration and an ongoing dialogue about what the best thing to do is. I can't see any point in being anything other than utterly honest about what you are trying to do. And of course, what I filmed is only one part of their stories, - it's only one aspect of their lives at that time.
You can read this interview in full on Shooting People
Grierson Trust organisers of the prestigious Grierson documentary awards
T o sign up to Shooting People and save £5, click here.