ReelAbilities Denver Presents Films By and About People with Disabilities
The movie industry has botched both the hiring and portrayal of people with disabilities. While non-disabled directors don’t scare audiences with mentally and physically disabled monsters, they tear up crowds with traumatic porn or treat people with disabilities as if imbued with magical powers. Watch Monsters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The miracle worker, Forrest Gump, Rain man, Born July 4, The perfume of a woman or Radio for a cinematic story of how these portrayals can be dehumanizing, condescending, and wrong.
In the documentary Smart 2020 by filmmaker Salome Chasnoff Monster Code, writers, filmmakers, actors and critics with disabilities talk about how the industry has abused and ridiculed their community from the early years of cinema to the present day. Snippets from dozens of movies show just how rotten the treatment got – and still is.
“There are a lot of bad actors and people who act in bad faith, spreading false information in the world that they know nothing about and that they choose to remain ignorant because they are given money for it”, explains director Tommy Heffron in Monster Code. “It will guarantee a hearing. It will be titillating. It will be “Come on one, come on all … monster show.”
The film not only looks at disability, but also crosses issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class, and how they play out in the types of disabled characters we see – and don’t see. The doc explains how disability informs tropes like the Magical Negro, how blind women are portrayed as sex objects to be conquered, and how blind men are often shown fighting and driving cars – two of the only ways in which Hollywood knows how to be virile. And when it comes to sex with people with disabilities – depending on the movies, it’s almost always with someone who doesn’t have a disability, out of pity or out of rage.
“What Hollywood needs to stop doing is be out of touch with reality and stop serving its horrible agenda,” British actor Mat Fraser said in the document.
Monster Code will perform as part of Denver’s inaugural ReelAbilities Film Festival, which runs online May 5-8. And if ever a documentary has shown how important this type of festival is, this is it.
ReelAbilities, the world’s largest film festival featuring films made by and about people with disabilities, was launched by the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan in 2007; the organization offers a range of films to satellite festivals across the country which then produce their own programming. The Denver JCC has been trying to bring the festival to town since 2015, and this year will mark its local debut.
In addition to Monster Code, ReelAbilities will be filtered There is still hope for dreams: a story of PHAMALIE, a documentary about the Phamaly Theater Company of Denver, a local troupe of people with disabilities who create productions together; Heaven is a traffic jam on the 405, a portrait of an artist from Los Angeles who dealt with depression and anxiety; Living art, the story of a woman with family dysautonomia who uses art to communicate with others and earn a living; Spectrum: a story of the mind, an action and animated film on the sensory problems encountered by people with autism; and Jmaxx and the universal language, a documentary about an autistic teenager who uses hip-hop dance to connect with the world.
Other programs include a talk with Chasnoff, members of Phamaly and a union representative of the actors; a creative mindfulness workshop entitled “How to be in me”, led by art therapist Arielle Rothenberg; and an adaptive dance / movement class for people of all abilities from the Colorado Conservatory of Dance and Art as Action.
“The Denver part is how we bring this content to the local community and use our platform to highlight local organizations in Denver that are doing a very amazing job,” says Amy Weiner Weiss, Organizer of ReelAbilities Denver and Director. festivals at Denver JCC’s Mizel. Arts and Culture Center. “All the films deal with an element of art, of performance, of creative expression in general. The additional content also manages the creative expression. “
The festival is expected to spark many conversations that many members of the city’s film community have avoided – about portrayal in films playing in theaters; work in the cinema; whose stories are told and by whom; and the accessibility of the movie experience itself.
Some of these are issues that the CCM itself faces – both in how it views the type of cultural activities it schedules and in the accessibility of those offerings.
All the festival’s programming is available online. Viewers can rewind or pause content or control volume and lighting in a way that works for all sensory issues. Movies and discussions will include open captioning – written descriptions of the scenes, music, and dialogue that are part of the file itself, so people don’t have to access them thanks to special camera technology. closed captioning. There will also be ASL interpreters and audio descriptions for the programs.
“It’s important for us to think about how we can make sure that when we pick up in person, we have ASL performers and live audio description,” Weiner says. “Logistically, it’s very easy to do it in person. This is something that we would like to incorporate into all of our programming. It really showed us the gap and how to bridge it.
Weiner Weiss hopes the festival challenges Denver’s wider cultural scene to broaden its thinking about disability and accessibility.
“Part of the work of setting up this festival for us really highlighted the programming divide that exists everywhere,” Weiner says Weiss. “It really forced us to look at the way we operate in the world and to present the programming.”
To learn more about the ReelAbilities Denver Film Festival, which takes place online May 5-8, visit the JCC Denver website.
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