Genevieve Clay-Smith can see no reason why people's opportunities should be limited by factors beyond their control.
“People with disabilities really lack points of access to employment of choice,” she explains. “It's pretty unfair that if you're born a certain way, and society has stigmas about you, you won't be able to go into an industry that you’re interested in.”
Clay-Smith is co-founder of Bus Stop Films, a not-for-profit organisation transforming the lives of people with disabilities by creating opportunities for them to be included in the notoriously exclusive film industry.
The program combines theory-level study of film with practical filmmaking to give students a real film school experience, all while gaining confidence and self-esteem, literacy and work-ready skills.
“Currently our government is spending $15 billion each year on disability unemployment, and that figure says to me that we're really not fighting hard enough to develop our people with disabilities and put them in jobs where they can thrive and flourish,” she says.
Clay-Smith’s eyes were first opened to the barriers people with a disability, and their families, face while working on a documentary project with Down Syndrome NSW during her Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production) degree. During that process, Clay-Smith met Gerard O’Dwyer – a young man with Down Syndrome. Soon after, and in a move that would set the course for her career, she decided to cast O’Dwyer as the lead in her own short film.
The resulting inclusive film, Be My Brother, went on to win Tropfest – the world’s largest short film festival – and was the catalyst for founding Bus Stop Films. By also including crew members with disabilities, Clay-Smith proved that an inclusive approach actually enhances both the process and the end product.
“A lot of times, the most important part of filmmaking is the end result, and nobody cares about what it looks like to get there. But for me, the process – and the treatment of people in the way a film is made – is just as important.
“By including people who might not otherwise get the chance, and treating your crew with dignity and respect, it enriches the entire process. You can come away with a great film, and know that it's been made in a great way as well.”
Though she has no lived experience of disability, Clay-Smith knows what it’s like to feel sidelined; she grew up without a father, and was bullied and excluded as a child. She says the opportunity to empower others to change their lives has been incredibly rewarding.
“A lot of the people that we work with would never have accessed such an opportunity had it not been for our organisation. It's a very transformative and life-enriching experience for the students to work towards a common goal as a team, and then to go to a premiere and see the film with members of the community, and be celebrated.”
In recognition of her important work, Clay-Smith was named 2015 NSW Young Australian of the Year, and closer to home, she was named the 2015 UTS Young Alumni Award recipient.
“It's quite a wonderful thing to share my passion and love for film with others, and see them grow and be enriched through that.”
Nominations are now open for the 2016 UTS: Alumni Awards. If you know a graduate who deserves to be recognised, you can nominate them today at alumni.uts.edu.au/alumni-awards