World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), 21 March, is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012.

Down syndrome (or Trisomy 21) is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition, being universally present across racial, gender or socioeconomic lines in approximately 1 in 800 live births, although there is considerable variation worldwide. Down syndrome usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability and associated medical issues.

Learning Disability and Film

Learning disabled people are chronically underrepresented in the film industry. This is a time to reflect on supporting learning disabled representation in the film industry as well as consider access to cinema for neurodivergent audiences.

Released on World Down Syndrome Day 2021, Amber and Me is a documentary about friendship. Amber has Down’s syndrome and is about to start school together with her twin sister, Olivia. Although at first her experience is positive, she soon starts to struggle and asks to stay at home. Olivia is keen to keep her twin sister in the same class and so begins the struggle of keeping the girls together at school. The film follows the challenges for both girls through 4 years of school and charts the changes in their relationship, uniquely from their own perspectives.

In 2019, FAN New Releases supported Signature’s title The Peanut Butter Falcon, a modern Mark Twain-esque adventure starring Shia LaBeouf (American Honey, Fury) as a small-time outlaw turned unlikely coach who joins forces with Zack Gottsagen‘s Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome on the run from a nursing home with the dream of becoming a professional wrestler. 

You can now rent The Peanut Butter Falcon on BFI Player. (CC available)

My Feral Heart is a drama in which Luke (Steven Brandon), a young man with Down’s syndrome who prizes his independence, is forced into a care home after the death of his mother. There he rails against the restrictions imposed on him, but his frustrations are allayed by his budding friendships with his care-worker Eve (Shana Swash) and a mysterious feral girl (Pixie Le Knot).

BFI Player subscribers can watch the film My Feral Heart on BFI Player, or it can be purchased on DVD or through streaming services. (CC & AD available)

Oska Bright, based in Brighton is the worlds biggest learning disability film festival. Find out more about their amazing work here.

Learning disability and Cinema

During the pandemic learning disabled and neurodiversity focused organisations kept in touch by running online activities with their members. If you are interested in running online activity you may find some helpful resources below.

If you’re interested in running a relaxed screening to help bring in Learning Disabled audiences to your cinema, find out more in our quick tips for running relaxed screenings. You may also find some transferable advice in our autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.

Learning Disability Week, taking place in the third week of June is presented by Mencap,

Learning Disability and Film

Learning disabled people are chronically underrepresented in the film industry. This is a time to reflect on supporting learning disabled representation in the film industry as well as consider access to cinema for neurodivergent audiences.

Ian Davies’ film Amber and Me follows the challenges for twin sisters through 4 years of school and charts the changes in their relationship, uniquely from their own perspectives. Amber has Down’s syndrome and is about to start school together with her sister, Olivia. Although at first her experience is positive, she soon starts to struggle and asks to stay at home. Olivia is keen to keep her twin in the same class and so begins the struggle of keeping the girls together at school. It can be streamed through virtual cinemas and purchased at the Amber & Me website.

In 2019, FAN New Releases supported Signature’s title The Peanut Butter Falcon, a modern Mark Twain-esque adventure starring Shia LaBeouf (American Honey, Fury) as a small-time outlaw turned unlikely coach who joins forces with Zack Gottsagen‘s Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome on the run from a nursing home with the dream of becoming a professional wrestler. You can now watch The Peanut Butter Falcon on BFI Player.

You can also watch the film My Feral Heart on Amazon Prime. A drama in which Luke (Steven Brandon), a young man with Down’s syndrome who prizes his independence, is forced into a care home after the death of his mother. There he rails against the restrictions imposed on him, but his frustrations are allayed by his budding friendships with his care-worker Eve (Shana Swash) and a mysterious feral girl (Pixie Le Knot).

Oska Bright, based in Brighton is the worlds biggest learning disability film festival. Find out more about their amazing work here.

Learning disability and Cinema

Through Covid learning disabled and neurodiversity focused organisations kept in touch by running online activities with their members. If you are interested in running online activity you may find some helpful resources below.

If you’re interested in running a relaxed screening to help bring in Learning Disabled audiences to your cinema, find out more in our quick tips for running relaxed screenings. You may also find some transferable advice in our autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.

FAN supported BFI Musicals in autumn 2019. This was a nationwide cinema season celebrating the spectacle and craft of Musicals on film. This major season was led by BFI, Independent Cinema Office and Film Audience Network (FAN). 

FAN member cinemas could access screening support to present films, mini seasons or events as part of the season. With screening support, they received help to fund their own independent programming and events plus support to do wrap around activity related to the seasons core titles.

For exhibitors who wanted to include Captioned Subtitles on their screenings, Sweet Charity was bookable from the ICO touring programme. Tommy and Singin’ in the Rain was available from the BFI.

Exhibitors who wanted to run a Dementia-Friendly screening, could take a look at our downloads section. Screenings are adapted to make the environment more suitable for people living with dementia. You can find more about running dementia-friendly screenings here. Dementia-friendly screenings are also sometimes called Relaxed Screenings, though these can also be suitable for people with multi sensory sensitivities or different conditions such as autism or learning disabilities.

Exhibitors who were interested in running a relaxed screening, could find out more in our quick tips for running relaxed screenings. There is also some transferable advice in our autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.

With Learning Disability week coming up in June, now is the time to support learning disabled representation in the film industry as well as consider access to cinema for neurodivergent audiences.

In 2019, FAN New Releases supported Signature’s title The Peanut Butter Falcon, a modern Mark Twain-esque adventure starring Shia LaBeouf (American Honey, Fury) as a small-time outlaw turned unlikely coach who joins forces with Zack Gottsagen‘s Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome on the run from a nursing home with the dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Dakota Johnson (Suspiria, Fifty Shades of Grey) stars as Zak’s loving, but stubborn, carer. 

This feel-good film features a Learning Disabled actor in a leading role, where his disability is not the main element of the story. It’s a tale of friendship and adventure, and will appeal to fans of wrestling, good storytelling, and/or road movies.

You can now watch The Peanut Butter Falcon on BFI Player.

Bookings for Community Cinema screenings can be made from Cinema For All.

You can also watch the film My Feral Heart on BFI Player. A drama in which Luke (Steven Brandon), a young man with Down’s syndrome who prizes his independence, is forced into a care home after the death of his mother. There he rails against the restrictions imposed on him, but his frustrations are allayed by his budding friendships with his care-worker Eve (Shana Swash) and a mysterious feral girl (Pixie Le Knot).

If you’re interested to run a relaxed screening, to help bring in Learning Disabled audiences to your cinema, find out more in our quick tips for running relaxed screenings. You may also find some transferable advice in our autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.

Black Moon Film Club

Black Moon Film Club hosts screenings all over Northern Ireland, with a home in Belfast’s Black Box arts venue in the Cathedral Quarter area of the city. The film club has been supported by Film Hub NI who offer funding and audience development support to film exhibitors in Northern Ireland. Black Moon Film Club is an inclusive … More

*** COVID GUIDANCE UPDATE ***

Research by Dimensions found that 90% of guests to autism friendly cinema screenings would feel safe going back to the cinema, with safety measures in place. Previous research has found that the autism friendly screenings are sometimes the only [quoted] “normal” activity people and families with autism can do together without fear of judgement. Autism friendly screenings are a safe space for people and families with autism, there isn’t fear of judgment and it’s an experience they can share with and talk about with friends and loved ones.

Going to autism friendly screenings was a routine for some guests, and routine can be very important for people with autism. Lockdown changed day-to-day life significantly so being able to go back to the cinema will offer some normalcy and respite.

Independent cinemas that are able to provide screenings are encouraged to support these audiences.

Dimensions created guidance and key messages to help exhibitors to adjust screenings to keep providing autism-friendly cinema to customers throughout covid.

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Back in 2011, Dimensions and the UK Cinema Association joined forces to help introduce regular autism-friendly screenings to the UK, developing the work begun by Picturehouse in collaboration with National Autistic Society (NAS) in 2009.

ODEON was one of the first UK cinema companies to roll out the delivery of autism-friendly screenings, in 40 sites across the country. Over 3,000 guests attended those screenings, since which time they have grown tremendously in terms of availability and popularity.

2016 marked the fifth anniversary of national autism-friendly screenings in the UK. In those first five years, there were 280,000 visits to 200 screenings across 300 sites operated by ODEON, Cineworld, Vue and Showcase Cinemas, with many more independent cinemas picking up the mantle and running regular programmes of their own.

With five national cinema chains, and a number of independent exhibitors, now partnering with Dimensions and committed to high quality, regular screenings, cinema is becoming increasingly accessible for guests with sensory sensitivity. Through this training, we aim to support more cinemas in the delivery of autism- friendly screenings.

The UK Cinema Association, supported by Dimensions and the BFI Film Audience Network, have produced this guide on how best to deliver and promote autism- friendly screenings at your cinemas. We hope you find it useful and it inspires you to consider putting on your own autism-friendly screenings.

Whilst this guide predominantly focuses on autism – and screenings are therefore referred to as autism-friendly screenings (AFS) – we know many cinemas use the terms ‘relaxed’ or ‘sensory friendly’. Whatever the name used, such screenings can benefit anyone who finds standard screenings overwhelming.

People with a broad range of cognitive conditions can look at what these screenings do differently to see if they might be of benefit to them.

Access the guide, along with further resources in the downloads section.

Autism-friendly screenings training video

Bringing Film to the Westerly Edge

The project was created to develop inclusive cinema serving rural/isolated audiences on the Isle of Tiree, the most westerly of the Inner Hebrides. Tiree has a population of 650 and the nearest cinema is 4 hours away on a ferry.  The project was initiated by Jen Skinner in December 2015 using an old projector in … More

Case Studies

Independent cinemas, film clubs and societies, and multi-arts venues have produced some of the most exciting cinema events, engaging with audiences across the broadest spectrum of the UK public. From R&D projects, piloting screenings for children with multi-sensory needs, to symposiums on LGBTQ+ film, to festivals raising awareness about living well with dementia, to film clubs led by Black, Asian and minority ethnic d/Deaf audiences, much of the Film Audience Network’s membership – large and small – have been bringing valuable film experiences and a slice of normal life to all people, whatever their protected characteristics.

Here, we share some best practice case studies, in an aim to engage more cinemas to take up inclusive cinema projects, collaborating with partners and specialist organisations to build a cine-literate and appreciative film culture.

If you’d like to submit your own case study, please download this Inclusive screening case study template and submit it to toki[at]filmhubwales.org, so we can share your experiences, too.