EXCLUSIVE: Troy Kotsur, the Oscar-winning star of CODA, will open the inaugural edition of the Little Venice Film Festival.
The festival, which will be held in venues across West London this October, has been established “to enhance inclusivity and accessibility in the film industry,” event founder Marc Cameron told me.
A festival program of indie features, documentary and dramatic shorts, plus classic movies with a local flavor, means Little Venice is unlikely to be impacted by the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes that are prevent many actors and writers from participating in the forthcoming fall film festivals.
It’s worth noting here that UK Equity members, while having much sympathy for their U.S. cousins, are not on strike and are bound by their contracts to attend festivals in support of movies made under Equity mandates.
It’s vital for the sake of a British film and television industry on its knees, suffering from the knock-on effect of the SAG strike and challenging economics, that Equity actors are allowed to do that for films and shows they and their crews sweated blood to make. Even so, some would prefer to stay away from front-of-house duties, as the optics aren’t helpful when many want to show solidarity with their American counterparts.
UK Equity members at a rally in London to support SAG-AFTRA.
I bumped into a a noted scenery painter over the weekend, who has worked with several big-name directors. He told me that all of his work in London, for two streamers, has come to an abrupt — including a series that had two further seasons planned. However, the drama show will not continue and the other series is also unlikely to return. Future film projects he’d lined up are also in jeopardy and he’s now painting cardboard cutouts for a department store to pay rent and feed his family. “The collateral damage over here is colossal,” he told me.
Sorry to interrupt the flow, but it’s important that people know that people here, from every branch of the business, are severely impacted by the strike. A hair-and-make-up artist I met briefly on a set four years ago delivered an Amazon parcel to my home on Saturday morning.
The cruel irony of it all was not lost on her.
But back to the Little Venice Film Festival, which Kotsur will open on October 22.
Two days later, on October 24, he’ll attend an evening of screenings for deaf and blind people at the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road, in Notting Hill. The actor will introduce director Sean Schiavolin’s documentary To My Father, which studies the relationship between Kotsur and his father, Leonard Kotsur.
The film was shown at this year’s TriBeCa Festival. In July, it won The Overall Audience Choice Award at the Heartland International Film Festival & Indy Shorts International Film Festival in Indianapolis.
‘CODA’s Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur celebrate Oscar win
Kotsur has spoken movingly about how his dad mastered American Sign Language (ASL) to better be able to communicate with his son who has been deaf since birth.
When he won his best supporting actor Academy award for CODA, Kotsur shared in his acceptance speech how his dad was the “best signer in our family,” but after a car accident had become paralysed from the neck down and was no longer able to sign. “Dad, I learned so much from you. I’ll always love you. You are my hero,” he told the audience in the Dolby Theatre.
Schiavolin’s 23-minute film, produced by John Papola, Kotsur and Justin Bergeron and executive produced by Mark Finley for the nonprofit Emergent Order Foundation, explores how Leonard Kotsur motivated his son’s creativity even after his catastrophic injuries.
“I was proud to be asked to attend the Little Venice Film Festival because of the good work they are doing, as the first festival making themselves truly accessible for the Deaf, Blind and Disabled,” Kotsur wrote in a statement provided exclusively to Deadline.
Troy Kotsur in ‘CODA’
Apple Original Films
He also praised the festival “because they are providing more than access. They are specifically programming for Deaf, Blind and underserved movie-goers. I hope this will serve as a model for other festivals going forward.”
The October 24 showcase at the Electric Cinema includes Suppression, director Julia Varvara’s (Lucid) dramatic short starring blind filmmaker and actor Adam Morse (See, The Bystanders, Lucid) playing a sighted character.
Morse told Deadline that “fully accessible film screenings are the way of the future.”
“I’m extremely passionate about promoting the importance of these new standards because of my firsthand experience living with sensory impairment myself,” he added.
The Electric Cinema showings will feature an audience of 83 deaf and blind people.
Cameron and his associates will provide audio description headsets, subtitles, live subtitles and sign language. He added that the full festival will also feature disabled access and screenings for neurodivergent people.
Adam Morse in ‘Suppression.’
The Royal National Institute of Blind people and deaf-led charity Stagetext are also supporting the festival, which has been granted an initial ten-year licence.
The nonprofit festival will be underpinned with vital support from Westminster Council and from borough officials in the Hyde Park, Little Venice and Westbourne council wards.
Cameron gave a shout out to Little Venice ward councillors Sara Hassan, Melvyn Caplan and Lorraine Dean. “They’ve been behind us all the way,” Cameron commented admiringly.
“It’s about showing there are no boundaries,” he added, noting that the idea behind the festival is to showcase technology that can be used “across UK cinemas, and across UK and international festivals to make cinema more inclusive.” More importantly, the fest can serve as an opportunity to lobby the government to make cinema “more inclusive as a whole in the UK.”
The festival will use subtitles and other access formats across the entire festival at all its venues, not just at the Electric Cinema, Cameron stressed.
‘Inclusivity Means Just That’
From what both he and I can discern, only 1% of cinemas in the UK provide subtitles. “Yet 40% of Netflix users use subtitles,” said Cameron. “This is an actual fact: 12 million people in the UK have hearing problems and 2 to 3 million people in the UK are blind or have sight problems.”
Cameron explained that “inclusivity and accessibility means just that” to the festival. Therefore it will support “female directors, LGBTQ+ directors and global majority directors.”
“It’s about addressing under represented areas of the industry with dedicated screenings. It’s about celebrating those diverse voices behind the camera and in front of the camera.”
At some point during our conversation I mentioned having similar debates as a trustee of the Tricycle Theatre and Cinema in Kilburn, in Northwest London, now called The Kiln, and how my fellow board members and I, along with the theater’s creative and administrative teams, tried to ensure that access to all was key.
When architects drew up blueprints for a new auditorium and public areas, we insisted that plans include as much all-round accessibility as possible. That came at a cost, but it’s vital that future new cinema and theater builds incorporate principals of full accessibility.
Official Little Venice Film Festival logo
Cameron nodded agreement. ”We just want to make sure everyone feels included, so that in five years time we’re not having this conversation and our festival is just a festival. We are just another festival.”
In fact, he promised that he wouldn’t be having a conversation with me at all in five years because his “dream is in two years to replace myself with someone who represents the festival’s values.”
The picturesque Little Venice borders the districts of Paddington, St John’s Wood, Notting Hill, Kensal Rise and Maida Vale. The area, named because the Grand Union canal runs through it, has been a backdrop to countless movies including A Fish Called Wanda, Paddington 2 and Bride & Prejudice. Early on in his filmmaking career, I have a memory of visiting Danny Boyle at a production office there, and of having a cuppa tea (or was it something stronger? Can’t remember!) with Richard Branson on a posh barge he kept berthed on the canal when he was involved with Virgin Films.
The locale was in the news recently with the sale of the BBC Maida Vale Studios to a consortium that includes Working Title co-chairmen Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and composer Hans Zimmer and his business partner Steve Kofsky. Hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of Little Venice as the festival establishes itself.
Full programme details for the Little Venice Film Festival will be announced on October 7.