Written by James MacGregor on . Posted in Documentary


Clare Richards - an award winning debut directorA film director's first ever documentary film has scooped a prestigious Grierson Award, recognised as a top UK documentary film honour. The award was presented by the Grierson Trust at the Royal Geographic Society in London on Friday night, 17th November. The ceremony was to be televised on BBC 4.


Since leaving university, Clare Richards has been working in TV programme research  and as an assistant producer, latterly for Lambent Productions, but last year was given the opportunity by the company to research and direct her first documentary film, Disabled and Looking For Love, which went out on the Fresh strand on BBC 3 earlier this year.

Nic and Lisa, two disabled people who find love

On her Grierson success Clare says: "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."

The idea that a disabled person should want to have a sex life is still considered fairly taboo

"The film is about looking for a partner through the eyes of people who have disabilities to contend with," the director says. " 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."

Recognition as a talented documentary filmmaker has not come easily. In this highly competitive world new starters often have to struggle, as Clare knows only too well.

" I always wanted to work on documentaries," she says, "So when I graduated , I thought that the television route was my best bet. I worked for free until I got my first paid job which was verifying the questions on Wipeout and I just tried to keep working until I ended up pitching for Fresh."

Clare decided that she needed to make an honest approach, both to the subject she wanted to film and to pitching the idea, which she took to BBC for the channel's Fresh slot, which features new film work.

"The pitch was upfront and provocative," she says, "Not an ‘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."

There can be little doubt that in choosing to look at what is deeply personal ground for most people, the film was heading into very sensitive territory, as Clare agrees.

"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 can read this interview with Clare Richards in full on Shooting People's Shooters Films website.