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How often have you seen someone in a crowd politely look away from a person with disabilities? Since 2007 The New York ReelAbilities Film Festival has invited us to really look and see individuals with disabilities for who they are – people. People with real hopes and real dreams.
The Saul Schottenstein Foundation B and ReelAbilites initiated a program that traveled to cities across the United States. Cincinnati was the first to host these award-winning films by, and about, people with disabilities.
Redwood was honored to be a part of ReelAbilities with board member Debbie Tweddell and staffer Marlyana Cooney participating in “talk back” sessions for two of the films, Shooting Beauty and Praying with Lior.
Shooting Beauty is the story of fashion photographer, Courtney Bent, whose life changed when she discovered beauty in an unexpected place – a United Cerebral Palsy Center. Clients were given cameras, adapted to their needs, and took amazing photographs that were exhibited in a gallery. Seeing people with disabilities connecting and creating beautiful works of art was an inspiration. Debbie participated in “talk back” sessions with Jason Harris at The Mayerson Jewish Community Center, The Cincinnati Art Museum and Mt. St. Joseph College. Jason has Asperger’s Syndrome and attends Mt. St. Joseph College. The shared perspectives of a parent of an adult child with disabilities and a person with a disability were thought provoking.
Praying with Lior is a documentary about a teen with Down syndrome and the journey to his Bar Mitzvah. Marlayna Cooney, Director of Adult Independence, chose this film as her “talk back” because of her brother Mike, who, though developmentally disabled, has a deep faith. She felt there would be similarities between Lior and Mike, but little did she know how much the film would touch her!
“I was in disbelief as I sat through my first viewing of the film!” stated Marlayna. “There were so many parts of it that spoke to me as a sibling of someone with a disability.”
Lior’s siblings were interviewed and Marlayna related to each of them. “The youngest was embarrassed by Lior at times. I was, too, growing up. I think it is a part of life. The middle child felt like he was his brother’s only friend, and the oldest sibling felt it was her duty to take care of him. Right now, I feel that is my job, to make sure Mike is OK,” said Marlayna.
The film also covered the death of a parent, and how someone with a disability was affected by it. “Mike and I lost our mother a couple years ago. My whole family could relate to what the family in the film was dealing with. It is really hard.”
ReelAbilities was an eye-opening experience! Redwood looks forward to participating next year.