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Special People (2008)

Courtesy of Guerilla Films

Main image of Special People (2008)
35mm, 82 min, colour
Directed byJustin Edgar
Production Company104 Films
In Association withScreen West Midlands
ProducersAlex Usborne
 Justin Edgar
ScreenplayDominic Coleman
 Justin Edgar
CinematographyZac Nicholson

Cast: Dominic Coleman (Jasper); Robyn Frampton (Jess); Jason Maza (Dave); Sasha Hardway (Anais); David Proud (Scott); Lucinda Raikes (Ann)

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A filmmaker gets a lot more than he bargained for after being assigned to lead a film course for a group of teenage wheelchair-users.

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This comedy-drama centres around filmmaker Jasper, who helps a group of teenage wheelchair-users make a fiction film about real life in a community outreach project. The teenagers are not exactly thrilled to be involved, but Jasper perseveres with his plan to take them up a mountain as a metaphor for their 'daily struggle'.

The comedy is most pronounced when Jasper and his crew arrive in the countryside. Jasper tries to motivate the crew by telling them that they will finish this film, "even if it kills us!" When one actress, Jess, breaks a leg during filming, Jasper reasons that she "wasn't using it anyway", part of a pattern of undermining stereotypical attitudes to those with disabilities. The film confounds expectations on many levels, not least because its disabled characters are, unusually, played by disabled actors. But disability is not in itself the whole subject. The protagonists are, ultimately, typical teenagers: they lark about, wind up the adults, fall for each other.

Special People emerged from an improvisation by a group of disabled teenagers in Hereford, which in turn grew into an award-winning short. Jasper's own kitchen-sink-style short film, which he shows to the teenagers, is laden with grim clich├ęs about council estate life, but Special People's director Justin Edgar lends his own film credibility and immediacy, helped by shooting in a documentary style with natural light.

By keeping the central theme simple, Edgar and his team are free to explore the nature of the relationships between the characters, their secrets and lies, as well as attitudes to disability from within the community and without. Through this lens, the teenagers' greatest burden is the condescending, patronising attitude that disabled people encounter constantly - and which Jasper himself replicates. His efforts to capture the hardship of their lives is exposed as sentimental nonsense. While the teenagers endure various indignities at the hands of this so-called grown-up, it is Jasper who is the butt of all jokes. There is a sharp edge to this comedy, but it is never cruel. Even Jaspar, whose character comes close to caricature as he tries to inflict his brand of 'social realist' filmmaking on the teenagers, is nevertheless portrayed as human and well-meaning.

In a crowning irony, the BBFC issued Special People a 12A certificate, provocatively citing "sexual references, and disability theme", infuriating Edgar, his cast and crew, and disability campaigners. The reference to disability was subsequently withdrawn.

Caren Willig

Edit your own scenes using unedited 'rushes' footage from Special People in our addictive Cutting Room tool, in the Education section.

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Video Clips
1. On Location (1:20)
2. A random magic moment (1:23)
3. Coming clean (1:43)