Anita Altman of the UJA-Federation of New York in Manhattan wanted to create a national ReelAbilities Film Festival to help raise awareness of the common humanity and value of each person, regardless of his or her disability. That’s when she founded the ReelAbilities Film Festival.
The idea for a film festival was developed when Altman saw a film called “Praying with Lior” about a young man who has Down syndrome and how he prepared for a bar mitzvah. From there, she wanted the film festival to highlight moves that impact change while helping to expand and transform programming for people with disabilities.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival was founded in 2007 in New York City. Since then, the film festival has spread to 12 U.S. cities, including Cincinnati. In fact, Cincinnati’s ReelAbilities Film Festival launched in 2013 as the first city outside of New York to host the event. Today, it hosts the second largest festival nationwide, behind only New York.
In 2014, the festival’s national headquarters moved to the Queen City. It’s managed by the nonprofit Living Arrangements for Developmentally Disabled (LADD), Inc. For those who have never attended the film festival, all of the films screened during the event share the stories, lives and art of people who have disabilities.
According to Festival Co-Chair and Accommodation Committee Chair Kara Ayers, PhD., the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival expects thousands of people to participate in the eight-day event that runs from February 27 to March 7. Presented by Macy’s, the region’s largest film festival includes a Premier Weekend Corporate Awards Luncheon, Red Carpet Gala and Gala Afterparty as well as more than 30 film screenings, speaking and other events for VIPs. “Each of our film screening events is hosted by and will benefit a local nonprofit organization whose work enriches the lives of people with disabilities,” says Ayers.
At this year’s Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival, Oscar and Golden Globe Award Winning Actress Marlee Matlin will be the keynote speaker at the Corporate Awards Luncheon. Also in attendance will be respected actors Danny Woodburn, Daryl Chill Mitchell and Kurt Yaeger in addition to Richard Bernstein, the country’s first state Supreme Court Justice who is blind. Project Runway’s Justin LeBlanc and internationally acclaimed photographer Rick Guidotti of Positive Exposure will also be at the film festival as well as many who are featured in or part of the films will attend the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival.
Now that the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival is entering its third year, the event has grown more than four times in size, according to Ayers. “We have accomplished this because of how our entire region has supported our cause,” Ayers adds. “We have succeeded at bringing together government, academia, the business and arts community as well as social service to celebrate our region’s diversity and our shared humanity.”
The mission and message is resonating within the business community, too, says Ayers. “The region’s top employers are recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in recruiting and retaining strong workforces,” she adds.
In addition to these accomplishments, the Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival is bringing nationally- and internationally-recognized Hollywood stars who want to come to Cincinnati and participate in the festivities. The national festival has grown so much this year that there were more than 500 films submitted from across the world to be juried for awards.
The Cincinnati ReelAbilities Film Festival will be held in several locations throughout the Cincinnati area. “Our Premier Weekend Corporate Awards Luncheon and Red Carpet Gala will be held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown,” says Ayers. “We will be holding film screenings at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Kenwood and Esquire Theatres, Cincinnati Museum Center, Great American Ball Park, Taylor High School and the Contemporary Arts Center.”
VIP guests are also invited to participate in a variety of speaking and other engagements that will take place throughout the city.
To see a list of nonprofit agencies benefiting from the film festival, click here. To learn more about the ReelAbilties Film Festival, visit the website at www.cincyra.org. Here you can learn more about the events, watch Film Festival trailers, register to volunteer and purchase tickets. You can also follow along on Facebook Twitter and join in the conversation using the hashtag #DifferentLikeYou.