Film Festival Accessibility to Be Assessed in New Scorecard Initiative (EXCLUSIVE)

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A new “Accessibility Scorecard” launched this summer will aim to help U.S. and international film festivals assess and improve their accessibility measures, Variety can reveal.

Developed by filmmaker and former International Documentary Association executive Cassidy Dimon in conjunction with the Film Festival Alliance and FWD-Doc, a collective of documentary filmmakers with disabilities, the Accessibility Scorecard will gather data from festival participants (such as speakers and filmmakers) and attendees that will be fed back to organizers in order to increase their awareness of how accessible their events are.

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“Right now, the burden is on the filmmaker or attendee to provide feedback and go to a festival and tell them what’s wrong or right — they can’t just [focus on] their job,” explains Dimon. “Part of this initiative is about making it as easy as possible for people to provide feedback without giving so much of their time and labor, which they’ve already given so much of.”

The Scorecard will take the shape of an online questionnaire that’s sent to participating festivals and members of the Film Festival Alliance and FWD-Doc, respectively. (Festivals that aren’t part of the former group, such as Cannes, can also request the resulting feedback, which will be collected whether a festival is part of the alliance or not.)

The questionnaire, which is largely multiple choice-based, will span a variety of relevant areas, such as website accessibility; in-person venue accessibility; in-person film, panel and Q&A accessibility; virtual event accessibility; and overall event interaction.

Amanda Upson, interim director at FWD-Doc, who first conceived of the idea, told Variety: “Our hope is that by enabling festival attendees to provide feedback, festivals will have abundant data on where they can improve accessibility. The Scorecard, in and of itself, will also provide useful information to festivals as to what accessibility they need to consider as they plan for their festivals. The Scorecard will serve as a tool for filmmakers and audiences to share their experiences easily with FWD-Doc, Film Festival Alliance, and the particular festival they have attended.”

Upson notes that the most important — and immediate — action that festivals and film events can take is to add easily searchable contact details for accessibility accommodation requests on their websites and promotional materials.

“A festival representative will need to monitor the email/phone number, but opening that communication path is such an easy way to put a person who needs to request accommodations in touch with the festival,” said Upson.

The Accessibility Scorecard is due to roll out on July 22.

The initiative comes amid recent criticism of a lack of accessibility at the Cannes Film Festival, which wrapped on Saturday (May 28). In a statement released during the fest, FWD-Doc said that although new efforts are being made, “rampant inaccessibility is preventing disabled attendees from participating fully — a detriment to career advancement, the entertainment industry and cultural representation.”

Cannes attendees with disabilities reported a number of barriers on the ground, including: an in-person registration window that was 5′ off the ground, requiring one to stand; standing-only access to kiosks and customer service desks; accreditation desks and computer kiosks that were too high for wheelchair users to access; inadequate signage for disabled filmmakers and others who require access accommodations; no mapping of accessible routes to screening locations; a screening reservation system that did not detail the availability of captioning or other accessibility options; inconsistent use of “disabled” tags on badges to assist with accessible seating needs; no clear signage for access to the Palais theaters, the Grand Lumiere and Debussy, without using stairs; and no transport (mobility assistance) between festival venues.

Variety also observed a lack of accessibility in the Palais des Festivals’ press conference room, which only has steps leading into the main seating area. Without a ramp present, one journalist who was using a wheelchair had to get out of the wheelchair and slowly descend the steps before getting back into her chair.

FWD-Doc and Hollywood disability activist org 1IN4 have made a number of demands for the 2023 edition of Cannes, including a commitment to accommodate disabled filmmakers and attendees; access and inclusion training for all staff; allowing disabled attendees to identify access needs ahead of the festival; and providing clear information on a point person for accessibility requirements. 

Jim LeBrecht, co-founder of FWD-Doc, said: “Next year’s festival should be a sharp, vivid contrast to 2022’s lackluster response to the growing, ongoing outrage over the dismal lack of inclusion at Cannes. This isn’t complicated nor should it be difficult for anyone to understand. All we’re asking for are the same things our non-disabled peers routinely take for granted.”

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