From a media release:
The Third Annual ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival
February 3 to 8 in 20 venues throughout the five boroughs, Roosevelt Island, Long Island and Westchester.
ReelAbilities is dedicated to promoting the awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. Discussions and other engaging programs will bring together the community to explore, discuss and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience. Films this year will have an increased focus on manmade disabilities and mental illness.
Presented by the JCC in Manhattan, with the support of UJA-Federation and over 40 partnering organizations, ReelAbilities will feature 11 films showcased in 20 venues, opening and closing night receptions, special non-film programs (performing arts, live music, theatre performances and more), panel discussions with guest filmmakers, and educational programming in various locations.
The third edition will mark an even greater focus on accessibility. All festival printed materials and the ReelAbilities website were designed according to the most recent accessibility guidelines. Festival information will be available in Braille, all films will be captioned or subtitled, and Live Audio Description and ASL interpretation will be made available.
“This is a festival whose goal is to foster culture change. The impact of last year’s festival was great. We reached a large, diverse audience, and people left the screenings saying how they felt changed by what they had seen”. Says festival founder, Anita Altman of UJA-Federation.
Festival director, Isaac Zablocki adds: “Our films this year are of the highest international quality and play for a mainstream audience. The films do not just stay on the screen. Our programs and conversations allow a further opportunity to impact the community, and transform cultural taboos.”
Marcos Carnevale’s 2009 film ANITA, will kick off the festival. Anita, a young woman with Down syndrome, gets separated from her mother after a bomb explodes at their Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. As she wanders the city searching for her mom–alone for the first time ever–she discovers an inner strength few could have expected.
Several countries will be represented this year through film such as WANDERING EYES (Israel), which tells the story of a former Orthodox Jew and manic depressive, Gabriel Belhassan, who is the next big thing in the music world. THE RED CHAPEL (Denmark) was a 2009 Sundance favorite, following a journalist with no scruples and two Danish/Korean comedians—one a self-proclaimed “spastic” with cerebral palsy— that travel to North Korea under the guise of cultural exchange. Antonio Naharro’s ME TOO (Spain), focuses on a recent college graduate with Down syndrome who forges a strong bond with a vivacious workmate.
Ten years ago, Paul Nadler was a creative maverick: an extreme sportsman, award-winning TV director, and a veritable Casanova to boot. When a car accident leaves him with a traumatic brain injury he sets out to reaffirm he still is all of these things in BRAIN DAMAJ’D…TAKE II (Canada).
American director Ken Paul Rosenthal creates a visually stunning account of artist-activist Jacks Ashley McNamara’s transformation from troubled childhood to psych ward patient to pioneering mental health advocate in CROOKED BEAUTY (USA). This poetic tale reshapes mental health stigmas while re-approaching madness as a tool for creativity, inspiration and hope.
Also screening at the festival are British films THE LAST AMERICAN FREAK SHOW and REEL ENCOUNTERS. THE LAST AMERICAN FREAK SHOW, by Richard Butchins, is a documentary that exposes the bigotry and bucking expectations of the American freak show. REEL ENCOUNTERS is a series of groundbreaking short films made by and about different deaf communities from around the world.
China is also represented with MY SPECTACULAR THEATRE, a remarkable cinematic work portraying a love story developed in a Beijing theater for the blind; and WARRIOR CHAMPIONS in which four Iraq veterans turn the nightmares of war into Olympic dreams.
The festival’s closing night film, WRETCHES & JABBERERS (USA) is about two men with autism who embark on a global quest to change attitudes about autism and intelligence.
“It is gratifying to see how these exceptional films attract a diverse audience of film lovers and engaging the community. This year is especially significant as we launch a traveling program, bringing this ground-breaking festival to five major cities during 2011” adds Ravit Turjeman, festival co-director.
At the core of the festival’s mission lies the importance of conversation and interaction. Award winning filmmakers and esteemed guests join the roster of films to create meaningful conversations and engagement beyond the films.
Guest speakers at this year’s festival will include renowned documentary filmmakers, Craig and Brent Renaud. At the upcoming festival, the Renaud brothers will be presenting their film WARRIOR CHAMPIONS, following four Iraq War veterans training to compete at the Olympics after losing limbs and suffering paralysis fighting for their country in Iraq.
Two of the athletes portrayed in the film will attend the festival as well - Melissa Stockwell, the first female American soldier in history to lose a limb in active combat., and later to become the first wounded Iraq War Veteran to make the U.S. Paralympics Swim Team; and Scott Winkler, who became paralyzed from the chest down during his tour in Iraq, and in 2008 set out to become one of the first Iraq War Veterans in history to make the Paralympics Games in Beijing.
Additional speakers include Academy Award®-winning documentary producer and director Gerardine Wurzburg who will participate in the festival alongside Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher; protagonists of her documentary film WRETCHES & JABBERERS. Her films have had a major impact for social change. Major awards include an Academy Award® for the documentary Educating Peter, an Academy Award® nomination for Autism is a World, and the Cable ACE for Documentary Directing, among others.
CROOKED BEAUTY, the visually stunning account of artist-activist Jacks Ashley McNamara’s life journey, will be introduced by McNamara and the documentary’s director Ken Paul Rosenthal. Joining them will be Sascha Altman DuBrul, founder of the groundbreaking Icarus Project.
Special events will include the following:
• Diversity on Sesame Street: 40 years of the seminal TV show screened for kids in one room, while adults are treated to clips and a conversation with show writer Emily Perl Kingsley, whose son has Down syndrome.
• Flame: A spectacular show from the NY-based band, comprising 11 musicians/performers with developmental and physical abilities.
• FREE Players: Family Residences and Essential Enterprises’ (FREE) jazz ensemble of performers with mental and developmental disabilities.
• IF, created by Heidi Latsky Dance: Excerpts from IF, a breathtaking community-based dance performance which transcends physical differences with a diverse cast of 20 that is multi-generational, multiracial and of mixed ability.
• Music for Autism: An interactive, “Autism friendly” concert featuring Broadway’s Jersey Boys’ Dominic Nolfi, Dominic Scaglione and Deborah Hurwitz. Open for individuals with autism and their families. Advance registration required.
• Navigating Disability: An Exploration by four artists: Fountain Gallery, the premier venue for artists with mental illness, and VSA, the international organization on arts and disability, present 4 artists (Jacks Ashley McNamara, Martin Cohen, Emily Eifler, and Scott Ligon) who are navigating unique relationships between disability and creative expressions. ON VIEW February 3 - April 28 at The Laurie M Tisch Gallery at The JCC in Manhattan, Sat. Feb 5, 6pm - Reception and talk with Artist Jacks Ashley McNamara
• Our Time Theatre Company: Original work by the talented members of Our Time, a non-profit organization that uses the arts to improve the confidence and communication skills of young people who stutter.
• Seeing with Photography: A striking exhibition of photos from artists who are visually impaired, partially sighted, and totally blind. On View Feb 3-8 at The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library.
For more information about the festival, go to www.reelabilities.org or contact 646-505-4404.