• Johanna Garvin (L) and Emily Dash (R) at the Sydney Film Festival premiere of 'The Milky Pop Kid'. (Facebook / Sydney Film Festival.)Source: Facebook / Sydney Film Festival.
Johanna Garvin is a passionate young film maker with cerebral palsy - and no wheelchair was ever going to keep her out of the industry that she loves.
Chloe Sargeant

16 Jun 2017 - 3:48 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2017 - 3:52 PM

The talented creative is just 26-years-old. Her short film The Milky Pop Kid was chosen to premiere at this year's prestigious Sydney Film Festival, happening at various locations throughout the capital city this month.  

The Milky Pop Kid is a short film in which a woman in a wheelchair, Jules (Emily Dash) is a disability consultant, and has to teach an able-bodied actor how to play the role of a person with disability. 

The tongue-in-cheek 'mockumentary' delves into the understandable frustration felt due to able-bodied actors regularly taking the on-screen roles of people with disabilities.

"It’s something that has always frustrated myself and Emily [Dash]," says Johanna. "The Milky Pop Kid talks about how actors at certain points in their career look for roles that will help them win Oscars, and able-bodied actors always win awards for portraying someone with a disability."

The short film will show at the Sydney Film Festival twice this week. It's a part of the Screenability program, which features films about and by people with disabilities in order to boost the industry participation of the extremely underrepresented group.

"There’s been a long time that people with disabilities have been excluded, not only in the film industry. We’re some of the most underrepresented people in the media," explains Johanna.

"We’re some of the most underrepresented people in the media."

The film maker tells me that being a part of the Sydney Film Festival is obviously a huge honour, but it's also representative of an enormously important cultural shift in the way that the industry views people with disabilities:

"People are starting to increase their awareness that people with disability have a lot of offer the industry, both in front of and behind the camera. It’s really exciting. To be part of a well-known festival that I love, it’s quite unbelieveable."

'If I don’t say something then nothing will change'

Johanna explains that for her personally, there's been major challenges to overcome - both in the industry, and even at film school. But majority of the issues that people with disability face in the film industry is people's preconceptions.

"I think it has a lot to do with people’s attitudes towards people with disability; the lower expectations that people might hold. Like that it’ll be too hard to accommodate that person on set, or that it might take too long.

"At film school it was challenging. We had to do some films and a lot of locations we were on weren’t very accessible. I had to speak up and say, ‘I understand you have to accommodate a lot of people, you’ve also gotta think more broadly’.  

"It made me think that if I was having trouble at film school, how am I going to be in the industry itself? I thought I going to be a burden."

Another challenge was learning how to speak up and feel comfortable with telling someone, 'this isn't accessible, and that is not okay', Johanna says.

"You just don’t want to offend people. But then you have to think, but if I don’t say something then nothing will change."

'It’s like people think that disabled people are there to inspire them'

Eloquent and highly-regarded writer and disability advocate, the late Stella Young, wrote an unforgettable article in 2012 (and TEDx talk in 2014) on the concept of 'inspiration porn'. Young famously said of the concept (speaking of the 'inspirational' images on social media that feature people with disabilities):

"It's there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think 'well, it could be worse... I could be that person'. Using [people with disability] as feel-good tools, as "inspiration", is based on an assumption that the people in them have terrible lives, and that it takes some extra kind of pluck or courage to live them."

I asked Johanna if the concept of inspiration porn was something she'd ever personally experienced - her response was an impassioned, 'YES!'.

"It’s something that I’ve really struggled with. Emily and I talked a lot about it for the film.

"People often say to me ‘you’re so inspirational’, which is LOVELY. But I’m just getting on with my day-to-day life? It’s not really inspirational. But I suppose I can’t really dictate what people find inspirational."

Johanna continued, saying that it was difficult for her - as a person with disability as well as a film maker - to draw the line as to whether films she wants to create are empathatic storytellings of the lived experience of disability, or whether it could be viewed as inspiration porn.

"A friend of mine told me, ‘you’d be surprised how many docos come through the door with that sort of “inspirational journey” storyline’. I don’t want to do that, I want to be able to make people think and challenge their ideas. It’s SUCH a hard line. 

"That film from last year, Me Before You, that’s a great example of inspiration porn. It’s like people think that disabled people are there to inspire them and make them feel better about their life circumstances that they might be dealing with."

'I want to be a diverse film maker'

As a film maker, Johanna is dedicated to challenging the idea and preconceived notions of her audience, both with The Milky Pop Kid and in future projects. However, she doesn't want to only make films about disability over the course of her career.

"I want to be a diverse film maker. I’m interested in a broad number of things, including the lived experience of people with disability. 

"I really want to make sure I challenge myself and challenge audiences. I want to make sure I don’t stay in my comfort zone."

You can see more about The Milky Pop Kid on the Sydney Film Festival website. The second screening of the short film will be held on Friday 16 June.

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