DYSPLA: New Sensory Experiences

Challenging the way individuals think about, interpret and process visual information, the advantages of living with dyslexia and neurodivergency are highlighted in DYSPLA’s first International Moving Image Festival. The event runs over the course of four days and incorporates an opening gala, with highlights including a multi-faceted award ceremony and new-age visuals from collective D-FUSE; an industry panel discussion, featuring CEO of The Creative Diversity Network, Deborah Williams; and an immersive exhibition which simultaneously screens visual contributions from established and emerging filmmakers grouped by these conditions.

The screenings focus on anthropological topics, questioning the complexities and nuances of the human lifecycle whilst noting the importance of conceptual, emotional insecurities which arise throughout an individual’s existence. An example of this can be seen in American director Stan Brakhage’s (b.1933) Window Water Baby Moving (1959) documents the arrival of his first-born, Myrrena. The cropped, quick-changing sepia slides focus on his wife’s morphing body, abstracting contours and shadows to push her form beyond the humanistic, working to express moments of fear, intimacy and elation, inherent to childbirth.

By recognising the presence of dyslexic and neurodivergent creatives who continually flourish within film, the festival offers a new way of approaching, promoting and appreciating moving image. Speaking to ASFF, Lennie Varvarides of DYSPLA discusses how, often unknowingly, some of the most critically acclaimed directors live with, and are arguably enhanced by, these disorders. This realisation resulted in a revolutionary thought: should this minority have a genre of its own?

ASFF: Where did the idea for the festival come from?
LV: DYSPLA have been obsessed with dyslexic story-making for over 10 years, so the idea had a long time to brew. Like so many things, we could not put our ideas into practice until we won funding. When the Arts Council gave us the green light to produce the first festival dedicated to the visual innovation of dyslexic filmmakers, we knew the concept was not only marketable but also fundable.

ASFF: Why do you think it’s so important to be showcasing the work dyslexic and neuro-divergent filmmakers, and what is the festival’s impact on widening awareness?
LV: Dyslexic filmmakers are rooted in our film culture. Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Steve McQueen are great examples of iconic directors, and their work represents some of the most critically acclaimed and popular classics. The wider public, however, might not necessarily be aware of the fact that these filmmakers are dyslexic or neurodivergent.

The festival is important because we are promoting the excellence in dyslexic narrative and aesthetic. We have curated a remarkable collection of established and emerging filmmakers. We want to bring the film world and the art world together, at the Awards Gala and beyond the festival. DYSPLA wants to push the boundaries on how the audience experiences the moving image and to blurs the lines between film festivals and the art gallery space. The Awards Gala is also our celebration of a new genre – the dyslexic aesthetic.

ASFF: What types of films / themes are included in this year’s edition?
LV: The festival is made up of both experimental films and more traditional narratives. The work we are exhibiting explores themes of birth, life, the fight for existence and death. We want to question how we as humans deal with tragedy, corruption, inequality, prejudice, morality and ethics. Additionally, we have commissioned a film installation called FIGHT, by video DJ, D-FUSE, which will be live edited/mixed live at the Awards Gala.

We’ll be holding a panel discussion on the Dyslexic Aesthetic, a topic which is central to the understanding of what the festival is trying to achieve. This will be an integral debate about the analysis of the visual output of dyslexic work – whether or not there really is a discourse surrounding this – and how we can move forward knowing this information as a community.

ASFF: Are there any connections between the films that are being screened?
LV: All of the award-winning films and our special mention, Stan Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving (1959) explores the themes of life and death. Our commissioned artist D-FUSE is also creating a spectacular projection using DYSPLA-produced footage of young boxing and MMA athletes, describing why they fight. It’s our metaphor for life. The festival encompasses the very essence of birth, what it takes to exist, and what our legacy is after we die.

ASFF: What are the festival’s wider goals in terms of creating connections between filmmakers and expressing different perspectives within culture?
LV: This year’s festival is a pilot – we are testing out the concept and creating a hypothesis … For example, is there a dyslexic aesthetic? Do dyslexics make better story-makers? This is both a cultural question as well as an academic one and will probably take another 10 years to answer

DYSPLA is at The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras. 14-18 March. Find out more here.

1. Still from Mokoari Street Productions’ Behemoth. Courtesy of DYSPLA.