Dialog Box

Disability | History | Human Rights | Social Justice
Defiant Lives


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Defiant Lives introduces the world to the most impressive activists you’ve never heard of and tells the story of the rise and fight of the disability rights movement in the United States, Britain and Australia.
Featuring exclusive interviews with elders (some now deceased) who’ve led the movement over the past five decades, the film weaves together never-before-seen archival footage with the often-confronting personal stories of disabled men and women as they moved from being warehoused in institutions to fighting for independence and control over their lives. Once freed from their imprisonment, disabled men and women took on the big charities, criticising the use of celebrities to beg on their behalf. They chained themselves to public transport around the world and demanded access “to boldly go where everyone else has gone before”; and they lobbied for support to live ordinary lives in the community with family, lovers and friends.
The genesis of the film began in 2010 when filmmaker Sarah Barton received a Churchill Fellowship, which allowed her to travel to America and England to research her idea for a film about the disability rights movement. During that 8-week journey she travelled with her camera, tripod, lighting and sound gear and recorded 27 interviews with activists. “I knew that I would only get one chance to meet these people so I regarded the process as recording my research, and those recordings became the bedrock of the film.”
While most of the interviewees have disabilities, their individual impairments are not the focus of this film and are not explicitly discussed. Each interviewee instead discusses their contribution to the worldwide fight for disabled people to participate more fully in society. Together their stories tell of a community of disabled people with leaders you’ve never heard of, whose mission was to literally change the world.
In Australia we meet Rosemary Crossley and the late Anne MacDonald who took their claim to the Supreme Court so Anne could win her freedom,
In Great Britain, we meet Johnny Crescendo, known as the “Billy Bragg of the disability rights movement” whose music forms the soundtrack to dozens of direct action campaigns, and Liz Carr , activist and performer, most recognisable for her role as Clarissa in the BBC series Silent Witness. Liz says, “I love the social model with a passion”.
USA activist and ‘policy wonk’ Bob Kafka, explains how he, and many others, worked to make public transport accessible, and decided to move on to prioritising getting disabled people out of nursing homes as their next objective.

Samantha Connor, disability activist extraordinaire, whose motto is ‘nothing about us, without us, accompanies us on our journey as we meet these activists and engage with their bravery, intelligence and humour.
Defiant Lives is a triumphant film full of ex

How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

We are looking for partners who have a passion for disability issues. We want the film to be at the centre of a conversation about this, and believe there must by individuals and foundations who share our goals.
Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

• Increase access to
public spaces and
workplaces for
people with
• Increase
participation of
people with
disabilities in the workplace.
• Advocate for
stronger legislation around Disability
Discrimination Act Federal and VIC Equality.
• Advocate for a
Royal Commission into the abuse of people with
disabilities in
• International (US) stop disabled people from being placed in nursing homes and institutions.
• UK support activists currently defending the erosion of
disability support benefits.
• Rewrite the
history of the
disability movement.
• Celebrate the
achievements of
disability rights
• Rewrite the
history of the
disability movement.
• Celebrate the
achievements of
disability rights
• Inform and educate broader community about the aspirations of disability rights

What is your education and outreach strategy?

The first screening to friends and family, funders, participants, cast and crew was at the Sun
Theatre in Melbourne, 24 November 2016. This was also an opportunity to strengthen existing and new partnerships.
o Vic State Minister for Arts/Disabilities advisor and people from the disability community and colleagues attended.
o This was the first opportunity to invite key partners to engage with the film.
We aim to raise the profile of the issue in the public sphere by reaching a mass audience.
We will seek a high profile festival premiere (such as Sydney Film Festival) and tour the festival circuit, followed by cinema on demand, non-theatrical, high-profile forums and
conference screenings in key territories (Australia, UK and US) and a possible TV broadcast (target ABC for 1 hour version – pitch disability week for PAN ABC approach in the same vein as Mental Health Week) or release on streaming platform such as Netflix and self-distribution platforms such as Distrify or VHX.
The team will aim to attract international broadcast sales via a sales agent (Flame, TVF, Dogwoof).
Around the release of the film, in collaboration with a publicist, a comprehensive media strategy will be developed. We will aim to place stories in the media around champions of the disability rights movement as well as key stories in the film and impact goals, drawing on key experts and influencers as commentators and writers. We could potentially partner with an ad agency to create pro-bono campaign to go with the film and a pro bono media buy.
Once the screening campaign is launched, we will include a media release template with key
messages and tips for attracting media in the film’s screening kit so that screening hosts also start delivering media on key impact goals and themes of the film.
Employ a social media manager to work with the impact team to develop and implement a social media campaign. The social media strategy will seek to engage the public and increase the
national discourse on disability rights, directing people to resources and positive actions they can take. It should also highlight and celebrate the achievements of the disability movement.
We will have a very active online presence directly leading up to the world premiere and release in Australia. However, building the ‘tribe’ around the film should be worked on and engaged with as soon as possible so there is an active audience at the time of release.
The DEFIANT LIVES website will include downloadable resources such as an education kit for use in communities, flyers and shareable social media graphics to provide deeper audience engagement. It should include a place for people so that we can build an email database to communicate directly with supporters of the film. The film’s Facebook page and Twitter will be central hubs for disseminating information.
Sarah Barton
Liz Burke, Sarah Barton
Total budget
84 Minutes