By Victoria Gaffney
This week, D.C. spots are screening thought-provoking and inspiring works from around the globe. The ReelAbilities Film Festival, which began in New York in 2007, is the largest festival to celebrate and foster understanding about different types of abilities through film. Since its inception, the event has blossomed into a series of national events spanning 15 cities throughout the year. The annual Greater DC ReelAbilities Film Festival, presented by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, is in its fourth year and runs through May 3.
ReelAbilities seeks to encourage conversation and cultivate awareness about different types of intellectual, physical and developmental capabilities. Following the screenings at various venues, there are discussions featuring a panel or guest speaker, such as a director or an expert in the field of disability highlighted in the film. Jessica Tischler, festival director, explains that these works help to convey different types of disabilities, even ones that are not immediately apparent. “Disability is not just something that you see,” she says. “It’s also something that can be invisible.”
Over the next few days, three more movies will be shown as the festival draws to a close:
“It’s All About Friends,” Phillips Program, April 30, 7 p.m.
This Swedish film, directed by Lena Koppel, is the sequel to “The Importance of Tying my own Shoes,” which was shown last year. The plot follows a morose cinematographer to Sweden when his friend urges him to do a documentary on his daughter’s friends. When he realizes that the subjects are disabled, he must come face to face with his own biases regarding abilities.
“A Whole Lott More, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, April 30, 7:30 p.m.
Directed by Victor Buhler, the plot of this film revolves around the 1,200 disabled employees at car manufacturer Lott Industries. The documentary focuses on a particular year of hardship for the company from the perspective of three workers. As a result, the film explores some of the complexities faced by developmentally disabled individuals who are seeking to participate in the workforce.
“Wretches and Jabberers,” Angelika Film Center & Café Mosaic, May 3, 1:30 p.m.
This poignant documentary is closing the festival. Directed by Gerardine Wurzburg, who will be attending the the screening at Angelika, the narrative follows two autistic men, Tracy and Larry, as they travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and Finland. Hoping to raise awareness and alter preconceived notions about autism and disability, these two memorable individuals guide viewers through the global landscape of perceptions.
One subject that many of the films touch on is how different cultures perceive and interact with disability. “It really shows that it doesn’t matter where in the world you live or the culture that you’re in. Disabilities can affect different families and be present in all communities,” Tischler says. “It’s really important, irrespective of race or geography, that we all embrace people with disabilities and understand they’re all like everyone else.”
Those who attend the ReelAbilities screenings don’t necessarily have a direct connection to the subject; some of them just like watching movies. Nonetheless, reaching a wider audience is one of the festival’s main objectives. “We’re really trying to make it as much of a cultural arts festival as any of the other film festivals in the area,” Tischler says. Many of the films are international, award-winning pieces that have an independent, artistic feel, and, perhaps even more admirable from a cultural standpoint, the works strive to bring viewers closer to understanding those who are different.