Documentary award winner Clare Richards: We're all just human beings
Clare Richards won the prestigious Grierson documentary award for her directorial debut, Disabled and Looking for Love, on Friday 14 November. Even now the shock hasn’t worn off for her, as she said: “I’m feeling a bit calmer about it now. But it was wonderful to have been nominated.”
On the film’s subject, she said: “It’s about looking for a partner through the eyes of people who have disabilities to contend with.” Clare filmed her subjects speaking about forming relationships, as well as in social situations, where difficult truths were often revealed.
Her film triumphed in a category that included stiff competition.
The well-received Don’t Panic I’m Islamic, about a Muslin woman trying to change the image of her religion, lost out, as did How To Start Your Own Country, which follows one man’s attempts to take up such a challenge.
Chairman of the Grierson Trust, Jenny Barraclough, said: “Documentaries are increasingly in the limelight and attracting huge audiences. Once again the standard of tonight’s films is astonishingly high.”
Clare was clearly thrilled by the response to the film, but gave much of the credit to her brave subjects.
She said: “I don’t think my idea is all that original. I wanted to deal with it in a way that’s more about the people than the disability.”
The subjects of Disabled and Looking for Love are Simon, who is 38, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair; Nick, 30, and also a cerebral palsy sufferer; Oldooz, a 22-year-old criminology masters student who has a degenerative disease and requires 24-hour care; and Clifford, 55, who is autistic.
Clare said: “They had different disabilities, a range of ages and backgrounds, so they were interesting as a group of people. It may sound obvious but I was just drawn to them all as people – I wanted to hang out with them.”
She met them through The Outsiders Trust, a nationwide self-help community for disabled people, with an emphasis on building new relationships. The London branch is near Tottenham Court Road.
Clare attributes the film’s success to her subjects’ candid approach to being filmed.
She said: “They had never really been asked about their opinions on their area. They really wanted to do it, to talk about things that have been ignored.”
In the film, they certainly speak frankly about their experiences.
Oldooz said: “The doctors predicted a maximum age of 12 for me, but now I think I can plan as well as anyone else.”
She added: “I joined Outsiders to find friends in similar situations to myself. The most I can really get out of a partner is a companion, a best friend.”
Simon said: “You do get lonely. I was sitting in night after night. It’s a vicious circle, you just get lower and lower.”
The documentary has been screened on cable channel BBC3, to great acclaim.
In Clare’s view, the response showed a willingness to learn about the problems disabled people may face.
She said: “There’s this recognition that we have more in common with people we consider to be disabled than we think. We’re all just human beings.”
She added: “Hopefully the film will show disabled viewers that there is a group that they can join in with.”
Clare's next project is a documentary on Polish immigration to the UK.