ReelAbilities: Appreciating the Lives, Stories and Challenges of People With Disabilities

Mar 9, 2012, 5:50 PM, Posted by


Missed the Reelabilities Film Festival in New York, Washington or Philadelphia? The festival, which features invited films showing the lives, loves, triumphs and challenges of individuals and artists with different disabilities, is on the road with festivals planned for Chicago in April and Richmond in May, along with other cities later this year.

The three-year old festival grew out of a meeting of agencies in New York City that serve people with disabilities to help “widen the definition of community and broaden the notion of inclusion,” says Anita Altman, founder of the festival, and Deputy Managing Director, Department of Government and External Affairs of UJA-Federation, an umbrella group in New York City for services to the Jewish and greater community. Altman is also founder of the organization’s Task Force on People with Disabilities. At that meeting, says Altman, the group realized it could be a change agent for society and chose film as the vehicle.

Altman says a key goal of the festival is a greater acceptance and understanding in society of people with disabilities, says Altman. A key element of the festival is that the goal goes far beyond simply screening films. Each showing includes a “talkback” about the film and its lessons learned. “It’s about helping to raise consciousness,” says Altman.

After each screening they ask the audience to fill out a survey. Altman says they’ve had a twenty percent response rate, and 92 percent of those responding said they thought the film made an impact on how they viewed people with disabilities.

Films in the 2012 festival include:

  • Ocean Heaven, about a father teaching his autistic son life skills to survive on his own
  • Body and Soul, which tells the story of three young Mozambicans with physical disabilities, who work to help others in their community
  • Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America, a look at the vibrant lives of five women with disabilities on their journey to the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, where the concept of beauty is defined through the lens of advocacy & perseverance
  • Princess, about a woman who spent fifty years as a patient in a psychiatric hospital
  • Agalee, about a boy who loses a bet and must ask a girl with cerebral palsy out on a date

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.