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Disability in motion: Film festival highlights lives of people with disabilities in series of screenings

“Nise, the Heart of Madness” will hit the Gateway Film Center on May 16 and is the third film in the ReelAbilities Film Festival. The film is about an unyielding psychiatrist who rejects the use of electroshock therapy and creates an art therapy revolution while challenging Brazil’s mental health institutions. Credit: Courtesy of VSA Ohio

This month, ReelAbilities Film Festival returns to Columbus for its fifth year and shares diverse stories through the eyes of people with disabilities.

The festival’s 14 films will be screened throughout January, March, May, July, September and November. In the past, the festival was annually held over the course of a few days. The first screening will be held on Wednesday.

“They’re all stories by and about people with disabilities about just life topics but through a disability lens,” said Erin Hoppe, executive director of VSA Ohio. “We’re bringing the audience together to talk about fathers or mothers or siblings or sex and what that is like for someone with a disability.”

VSA Ohio is a Columbus organization that works to promote accessible and inclusive art for people with disabilities through a variety of programs, educational events and creative opportunities.

Hoppe said the decision to move the festival to an every-other-month screening format was to make the event more accessible to those who are not able to attend a traditional film festival.

ReelAbilities holds festivals in 14 cities each year, and host locations create small committees that review their own films for the event.

The Columbus festival films were chosen by a group that included Hoppe and Matt Swift, program coordinator for film studies at Ohio State. The committee focused on choosing films that represent a broad range of stories and genres and that likely wouldn’t be seen by most people in Ohio.

This year’s films will include documentaries, short films and narrative films that will feature stories centered on people with various disabilities.

“The power of film is that it can show you another world you haven’t seen before, and a good film can take that and show it to you in a way that makes sense to you,” Swift said. “It taps into something within you.”

Swift has a personal connection to the festival. He has lived with accessibility issues for most of his adult life after developing neuromuscular problems in his early 20s.

There will be two screenings of each film: matinee and evening. Following the evening screening will be a performance or discussion that has some sort of connection with the film of the night.

The first film of the festival, “Tramontane,” follows the story of a blind musician traveling across Lebanon in search of his birth record. The screening will be followed by a musical performance from InnerVision, a musical duo featuring Genene Blackwell and Sam Shepherd, two lifelong friends from Westerville who developed blindness during their childhoods.

“We want it all to be really impressive but also really relaxed for people,” Hoppe said. “We want people to be comfortable and create a space where people feel like they can say [and] react to something in the film afterwards.”

The ReelAbilities Film Festival will begin on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. and all screenings are free. Reservations can be made at gatewayfilmcenter.org.

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