reelabilities 2020

Uplifting Houston film and arts festival showcases triumph over disabilities

Houston film and arts festival showcases triumph over disabilities

The Peanut Butter Falcon
The opening-night selection is last year's sleeper hit The Peanut Butter Falcon. Photo courtesy of ReelAbilities

Now in its eighth year, the ReelAbilities Film & Arts Festival continues to be a multi-medium affair which showcases creative, disabled people in and around the arts community. In fact, this chapter of ReelAbilities, which has film fests in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Toronto, prides itself on being the ReelAbilities fest that contains myriad arts and culture.

"Definitely, this is all about utilizing arts as a vehicle for sharing our mission, and to bring people together who are really with or without disabilities," says Dee Dee Dochen, this year's ReelAbilities chair. "It's really to start conversations, start dialogue and engage, enlighten. It's pretty fantastic, actually."

Inspiring films
The film festival, once again held at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace, starts on Sunday, February 16. The opening-night selection is last year's sleeper hit The Peanut Butter Falcon, with Shia LaBeouf as a drifter who finds an unlikely traveling buddy in Zak (Zack Gottsagen, who presented an award with LaBeouf at the Oscars), a kid with Down syndrome who runs away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler.

"This film has taken, really, the independent film world by storm," says co-chair Benjy Hershorn. "It's one of the highest-grossing independent films of last year, I believe, and the premise of the film is that people living with disabilities can star and carry a film. In the past, very few people with disabilities were cast in a role." Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, an advocate for hiring people with disabilities, will be in attendance to introduce the film.

The festivities will run through Wednesday, February 19. Various features and documentaries in both full-length and short form will be screened. Films will also be shown at Children's Museum of Houston, which will have a sensory-friendly day on Monday, February 17, and free family nights Thursday, February 13 and Thursday, February 20.

Other uplifting events
Don't forget about the other events that will be going on during and after the fest. Preview events were already popping off late last month, including Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin appearing at Congregation Emanu El to talk about achieving inclusion, diversity and access and the opening of the multi-sensory, "touch to see" art exhibit called Illuminating Dyslexiarunning through February 22 at the Joe Frank Theater of the Arts at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC.

The official ReelArt exhibition, featuring the work of Mara Clawson, will launch on Thursday, February 13, and run through April 17.

At the A.D. Players at the George Theater on Tuesday, February 11, the soon-to-be-sold-out ReelPeople: UP Abilities will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by welcoming speaking presentations from Army veteran J.R. Martinez, author/psychotherapist Rebecca Alexander, and pianist Darrius Simmons.

Also, the honorary chair for this year's fest is Lex Friedan, who is known as "a chief architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act." Things will wrap up on Thursday, February 20 night with a ReelMusic night at White Oak Music Hall, featuring live music from accomplished musicians with disabilities.

For the ReelAbilities Film & Arts Festival, it's all about giving the brilliant and disabled a chance to shine. "We celebrate the lives and stories of people living with both visible and hidden disabilities — not because they're disabled, but because of their talents and accomplishments," says Hershorn. "They're not defined by their disabilities."

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Admission and parking is mostly free. For more information, visit the official site

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