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'We want people to understand we are not broken people'.

Cross the Sky, a community theatre company for learning disabled and autistic adults, has been part of Barnsley Civic since 2015 but has been running for over 20 years. 


Over the last six months, supported by funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, filmmaker John Slemensek-Thorne of Studio Bokehgo has embedded himself in the company, supporting the company members to tell their story. The resulting film, a short-format documentary, sees the group rehearse together for the first time since February 2020. 


The Covid-19 pandemic put a dramatic stop to their plans to tour their musical theatre production 'Up in the Attic', with the group being forced to only meet online for over a year. While the pandemic was very much considered a ‘collective trauma’ on an international scale, it is recognised that disabled people experienced the pandemic in very different ways to non-disabled people, being disproportionately affected by the lockdown, loneliness, access to healthcare and vaccines and the alleged societal shift back to ‘normality’ and the removal of face coverings in public spaces. 


As well as exploring how the group experienced the pandemic, the documentary also promotes the creativity and talent of learning-disabled and autistic people and hopes to challenge the public’s perceptions of learning disabilities. 


Representing both Cross the Sky and Barnsley Civic, Jason White said:


“Many of our disabled performers have impairments that meant they have been more vulnerable than most members of our community to what happened during the Covid-19 pandemic. It also meant that the group had to shield for longer and take extra precautions before they could regroup and get back to what they love – performing.” “We now consider John to be part of the Cross the Sky family. It was a pleasure to have him take up residency with us. It was obvious from the start that he understood the group, the importance of our message and the need to enable and amplify the voices and experiences of our disabled members.” 


The film’s director John Slemensek-Thorne said: 


“A film screen is a window through which we can explore our world. I am so honoured and proud to have been welcomed into the extraordinary world of Cross the Sky. Together we have co-produced a film of great authenticity, integrity, originality, and beauty. It is all these things because of the generosity and honesty of all the members of Cross the Sky. They have shown their hearts and their spirits, and thanks to this, we have a film that is so sincere and heart-warming. It is truly an artefact of how wonderful humanity can be. I have loved being a part of this.”


Cross the Sky has screened in 9 countries across the world including its World Premiere in Barnsley, UK. Since the launch of its tour it has achieved 12 awards including the following:

Makizhmithran International Film Festival - India - SPECIAL JURY AWARD - Best Documentary Short Film
Ganges International Film Festival - India - WINNER - Films on Disability - Nominated for the Golden Owl Award - Result Pending
Black Swan International Film Festival - India - WINNER - Films on Disability
International Short Film Festival Malaysia -
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE - Best International Short Film
Golden Fern International Film Awards - India - WINNER - Films on Disability 
Golden Short Film Festival - Italy - Golden Soundtrack - WINNER - Golden Soundtrack
Golden Short Film Festival - Italy - Golden Documentary Short - OFFICIAL SELECTION
Golden Bridge Istanbul Short Film Festival - Turkey - Best Documentary Short - OFFICIAL SELECTION
Druk International Film Festival - Bhutan - Films on Disability - WINNER - Films on Disability 
Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival - HONOURABLE MENTION
Lift-Off Global Network - OFFICIAL SELECTION

Stockholm City Film Festival - FINALIST for Best Short Film
Milan Shorts Film Festival -
Singapore International Short Film Festival - WINNER - Best Film on Human Rights - WINNER - Best Original Score for Short Film - WINNER - Debut Filmmaker of Short Film - SPECIAL JURY PRIZE - Best International Short Film



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