Shropshire short film celebrating diversity within its casting sees soaring worldwide success
A Shropshire film which celebrates the diversity of actors with learning difficulties is flying around the world and winning prizes at festivals worldwide.
Actors with learning difficulties and disabilities in Shropshire have starred in a film showing at festivals worldwide as part of their work with local charity, Arty Party.
Arty Party is a Shropshire based charity which supports people with learning difficulties and disabilities to bring out their creativity and share their artistry with the public.
Graham Busby, 35, from Madeley, Telford, has the lead role in 'The Secret Life of Tom Lightfoot' – a short film about a man with birds in his heart.
Graham, an actor and dancer, who has Downs Syndrome, had to work with trained starlings on set in Aberystwyth to create the effect of birds flying out of his chest.
He said the whole experience was amazing.
"I learned a lot about filming, being at the sea side, and the birds," Graham said. "It was amazing really. I just loved everything about it."
Ray Jacobs, performance director at Arty Party, directed the film and said it was so important to represent disabilities within film and they were thrilled the film is doing so well.
"I have worked with a group of actors with learning difficulties on a Friday for the past eight years or so," Ray explained. "When really good stories come up we can sometimes make them into films or theatre pieces.
"Throughout the last five years we have been making films that travel around the world to disability film festivals or big international film festivals.
"Sometimes somebody writes a story that just feels right for us so we ask for the rights to adapt it. We got funding from the Arts Council to create some short films called Secret Lives, a bit of a series.
"They were all stories about ordinary people with professional jobs, but they have an incredible secret life. In The Secret Life of Tom Lightfoot, the secret is that he has birds in his heart. It's a bit of a metaphor for being anxious.
"The character has panic attacks and has to go somewhere on his own to release the birds from his chest. In the film, Tom has a friend he ends up talking to about it, and that helps him."
The cast, which included 12 members of Arty Party, travelled to Aberystwyth for the main shoot where the university gave them permission to use their buildings.
Aberystwyth also boasts frequent starling murmurations which they filmed, and it also meant they could incorporate the seaside into their story.
The film recently won first prize in the short film section at The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival in Texas.
It has been shown at more than 30 film festivals worldwide, including showings in Moscow, London, New York, San Francisco, Barcelona, Athens, and has won many awards. The film has also qualified to be considered for a BAFTA nomination.
Ray said it was a great experience for everyone, and meant they could show off the talents of the cast.
"It's just very important to show that disabled actors can be cast in films and do a great job," he said. "There were 12 from the group who starred altogether.
"The main thing Graham said to me was how much he loved being with the other actors. Graham is a dancer as well so he got to do some dance sequences which were great."
All three Secret Lives films will be opened locally at Oakengates Place Theatre on Wednesday, February 16 2022.