If you haven't experienced, or perhaps even heard about, ReelAbilities, this may be the year to discover this unique festival, which is a film festival, but also so much more.
Anita Altman of the UJA-Federation, who founded the festival in New York City in 2007, states its goal is to raise consciousness "about our common humanity and the value of each person, without regard to his or her ability or disability." This is the fourth New York festival, and an annual, national traveling ReelAbilities Festival has been launched in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Boston, with Chicago, Richmond, and Philadelphia scheduled later in the year. The films all relate to some aspect of disability, but they are chosen with care. They are decidedly not about the heroic overcoming of a disability, but rather are cutting-edge depictions of the lives and stories of people with varying abilities, told in ways that may be shocking, touching, disturbing, or poignant, but are always thought-provoking. Each film is someone's story — whether real or imagined.
Dozens of venues in New York City's five boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester, will host films and related events during the week of February 9 through 14, 2012. The schedule lists the 11 films and a selection of shorts, and the art, dance, music, and speakers that fill out the program. And something new has been added this year: Reading ReelAbilities. Ten locations of The New York Public Library will be participating by including disability-themed books in their regular read-aloud session for children.
NYPL first participated in ReelAbilities in 2011, and the partnership has expanded this year. Festival selections include: Ocean Heaven (with Jet Li) and Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America at the Bronx Library Center on opening day, February 9; Aphasia at St. Agnes Library; Ocean Heaven at Chatham Square Library; Reel Encounters (short films) at Countee Cullen Library; and Girlfriend at Jefferson Market Library. An exhibition of patient/resident artwork from Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Hospital on Roosevelt Island will be on display at Andrew Heiskell Braille & Talking Book Library. The 115th Street Library will also be exhibiting the artwork from Coler-Goldwater patients/residents, as well as featuring a show by Heidi Latsky Dance, who will perform excerpts from Latsky's new piece, Somewhere, as part of the Gimp Project.
Mid-Manhattan Library is happily hosting several events. During festival week, Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America will be screened (February 12), and Elaine Hall and Diane Isaacs will speak about Seven Keys to Unlock Autism: Making Miracles in the Classroom (February 13). As part of its regular Sunday afternoon film showings, Mid-Manhattan Library will show films from ReelAbilities Traveling Program on the remaining Sundays in February: War Eagle, Arkansas; The Straight Line (La Ligne droite); and Warrior Champions.