restricted access 5. Permutations of the Species: Independent Disability Cinema and the Critique of Ablenationalism
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136 five Permutations of the Species Independent Disability Cinema and the Critique of Ablenationalism Contemporary Disability Films and Film Festivals While chapter 4 details developments within the organizational and administrative structure of disability film festivals, chapter 5 arranges its analysis around the experimental content of independent disability film plots and technical explorations. In particular we seek to examine the rise of “ablenationalism ” as both a conduit for, and in direct tension with, the politics of atypicality. Increasingly film festival conveners find themselves negotiating a delicate line in order to achieve their goals of revaluing life in peripheral embodiments as an expressed outcome of their programming agendas. Seeds of this analysis first took hold during a screening of the short film I’m in away from Here (Catriona MacInnes, U.K., 2007), at the November 2009 “The Way We Live Now”International Short Film Festival in Munich, Germany.1 The film begins with a man masturbating on a public beach. He is interrupted by an older woman who calls his name out as if in a desperate attempt to find him and, thus, restrain this onanistic pursuit of sexual pleasure . As the film progresses, more information arrives: the man, Archie, is identified as neuroatypical and on the autistic spectrum. The woman turns out to be his mother.But at the start,we don’t know exactly how to place Archie in a cultural or geographical sense.We neither know why he chooses to masturbate in this particular place, nor why the woman is trying to gain his Permutations of the Species 137 attention. The audience awakens with Archie, suddenly and without warning . Signaled by distortions on the audio and video tracks, the world crashes in upon viewers as well as the protagonist; we cannot interpret the story amid these sensorial intrusions coming from every direction. Parental stalking , efforts at surveillance, and wide-­ ranging social prohibitions on crip/ queer sexuality collide and create a paranoid atmosphere. The audience feels caught out with the protagonist for some illicit crossing of normative conventions , but the reason for the punitive circumstance remains ambiguous. The film ultimately leaves Archie and the audience immersed in an experience that belongs to neither, an enigmatic story marked by a shared inability to keep the interruptions at bay. To begin in medias res is nothing new for experimental independent film. Both popular and avant-­ garde film movements have provided abrupt entry into film’s narrative spaces for decades. Here, though, it takes on additional significance as part of the upending of many of the normatively comfortable viewing coordinates that come not only with contemporary independent disability film narratives, but also with their places of exhibition—­ that which we explored in the previous chapter as the independent disability film festival circuit. Both the films and the festivals challenge expectations and understandings of normative narratives, spaces, and people. Independent disability cinema provides a public space within which to raise issues related to the place of disabled people during a period of expansive globalization and mediatization. They also provide opportunities for the readjustment of perspectives on disabled subjectivities and on the normative systems of classification that assign pathologizing definitions and categories to peripheral embodiments. When we speak of independent disability films, we refer to predominantly video-­ based works created on low budgets (less than US$100,000 but in many cases below US$10,000) and without the backing of a multinational corporate commercial mainstream U.S. film industry. Independent videos derive largely from local community contexts but speak globally to people with disabilities living around the world. There is an assumption of some degree of overlap between local contexts of stigma, isolation, and social placements that inhibit mobility, civic participation, and sexual expression . As discussed in our application of David Harvey’s theory of “political simultaneity” in the previous chapter, the intersections of the local and the global usher in complexities around definitions and categorizations as well as cultural rituals of reception. Independent disability cinema productions 138 the biopolitics of disability are typically funded by arts-­ based governmental organizations supporting the promotion of national identity unification projects abroad; yet these films represent the stories of those typically omitted from national narratives of ability in the country in which they are made. One of our main goals here is to understand the seemingly paradoxical nature of these competing impulses. This examination will chart how ablenationalism constrains the degree to which crip/queer bodies can be integrated into imaginaries of the body, while also...