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Festival Showcases Disability and Deaf Cultures

By Barbara Silverstein
May 4, 2017

People with disabilities will be in the spotlight at Torontos second annual ReelAbilities Film Festival (RAFFTO).

The event, which runs from May 10 to 18, will screen 17 films that will showcase disability and deaf cultures.

The goal of the festival is to promote awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities, says Liviya Mendelsohn, artistic director of RAFFTO.

When we brought the festival here last year, we thought it would be a great opportunity to generate conversation about inclusion and to bring forward film stories that might not otherwise be seen.

Stories of people with disabilities and deaf people are underrepresented in media and film.

Mendelsohn said part of the festivals mandate is to show local and Canadian films. We have all these international films, but we also make a point of working with local Canadian filmmakers.

The films to be screened at RAFFTO are productions from Brazil, Canada, Hungary, Israel, Ireland, Iraq, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In fact, some Canadian and international films will have their world premières at the festival.

Mendelsohn also stressed the importance of screening these films in fully accessible venues. The magic of cinema should be accessible to all, yet many film screenings present barriers to one in five Canadians with disabilities.

She pointed out that the films will have open captions or subtitles, and the venues will be wheelchair accessible, with space for escorts. American Sign Language interpreters will also be available for panels and discussions, and select films will have audio description.

Our festival offers a model of accessible screenings for all audience members.

Most of the films will be screened at the Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, or at Innis Town Hall (2 Sussex Ave.).

More than 30 community partners are involved in the festival, including the Al Green Theatre, DANI, Hillel Ontario, the Israeli Consulate, Reena and the Toronto Jewish Film Society. The festival will also include a free family film and arts day at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital on May 13.

Mendelsohn said CBC will be sponsoring a screenwriting award that will be open to Canadian filmmakers with disabilities. Some of the events other sponsors are Abilities Magazine, Access Ryerson, Accessible Media Inc., Autism Ontario, Community Living Toronto, CNIB, and the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto.

One local filmmaker whose film will be featured is Adam Wolfond, who has autism. Wolfond is the director of Adams Bar Mitzvah, a short documentary that focuses on him as he prepares for his bar mitzvah.

The film addresses such issues as Judaism, identity and disability.

A Q-and-A with filmmakers Wolfond and Estee Klar will be held after the screening of the film on May 17.

The RAFFTO opening night gala fundraiser, which will be held at Wychwood Barns on May 10, will screen the Canadian première of Looking at the Stars, a feature documentary from Brazil by filmmaker Alexandre Peralta.

The film is about a blind dancer who studies at the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind, the worlds only ballet school for the blind.

Its a really beautiful story, said Mendelsohn. Its a complicated look at the real-life experience of this schools dancers.

It follows a blind dancer as she tries to find a job at various dance companies around the world. Its beautiful and raw.

The closing reception on May 18, which will be held at the Al Green Theatre, will screen My Hero Brother, an Israeli documentary directed by Yonatan Nir.

The film, which won Best Documentary Film Award and the Audience Choice Award at the 2016 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, is about a group of young adults with Down syndrome who embark on a demanding trip through the Himalayas with their siblings.

A panel discussion with the cast and director will take place after the film.

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