The largest disability film festival in the nation will stop in 14 cities in 2014 in an effort to bring awareness to and dispel stereotypes about individuals with disabilities.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival presents award-winning films by and about people with disabilities in an effort to promote awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities. This year’s festival will take place in 14 host cities throughout 2014, including Washington, DC, on Feb. 6-13.
“We want to reach as many people as possible, particularly those who are not affected by a disability,” said Jessica Tischler, special needs director at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and director of the D.C.-area film festival. “It’s the people who don’t have a family member or work in the disability field that we’re really trying to reach and educate to show that a disability does not prevent you from living the highest quality of life you can.”
While this year’s ReelAbilities festival does not include any films featuring veterans with disabilities, past festivals have featured such films, including the 2009 American documentary film Warrior Champions, which chronicles the journey of four service members who were severely wounded in Iraq as they recover and compete for a spot on the U.S. team for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.
The ReelAbilities festival started exclusively in New York in 2007, and after a successful three-year run, the ReelAbilities national program took the festival on the road. Each of the 14 host cities – which this year include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Richmond – run the festival and select the films independently, Tischler said.
The D.C.-area festival will include eight feature films and numerous short films, opening on February 6 with the 2007 film Come As You Are, a comic drama produced by Asta Philpot about three young Belgian men with disabilities. On February 11, the festival will feature When I Walk, a documentary about filmmaker Jason DaSilva, who in 2006 was diagnosed with a rare form of multiple sclerosis, and his quest not only to survive but also search for healing, self-discovery and love. DaSilva also is the creator of AXS Map, a crowdsourcing tool that enables people to rate places and businesses on accessibility.
The festival will close February 13 with Wampler’s Ascent, a documentary about Steve Wampler, who has cerebral palsy, and his quest to climb the famous El Capitan Mount in Yosemite. Wampler in 2002 founded a camp for kids with disabilities, and the film serves as a reminder to children with disabilities that they can do anything to which they set their minds.
The ReelAbilities festival is made possible through the support of several sponsors, including The Washington Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Chimes, Saul Schottenstein Foundation B, Butler Foundation, the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, Kessler Foundation, and the UJA Federation of New York.
“We want parents to teach their kids at a young age about acceptance,” Tischler said. “It’s all about education and awareness, and we hope the [disabled veteran] community can come to the films and see what it’s about.”
Learn more about the ReelAbilities Film Festival
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.