The annual ReelAbilities Film Festival is a continent-wide salute to people with disabilities, using film and other creative means to shine a light on their stories and their talents. Fourteen cities in the U.S. and Canada — including Houston — will put on ReelAbilities fests throughout the year.
The Houston festival, organized by the Alexander Institute for Inclusion, began February 12 with the ReelArt preview and continues through February 22. Most events are free and take place at the Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24 & RPX, where patrons can experience the inspirational, uplifting films that will be unspooled. Here are four reasons to tune into this inclusive Houston film festival:
The movies, of course
Seventeen features and shorts, coming from the U.S. and all over the globe, will screen at this year’s fest. The U.S.-made documentary Swim Team (7 pm, February 18), about a competitive swim team which consists of teens on the autism spectrum, will serve as this year’s opening-night film. There will also be a premiere screening of Blind Date (4 pm, February 20), a documentary that follows three blind New Yorkers as they look for love in the age of Tinder and OKCupid. As for the shorts, they will show up in two blocks: a family-friendly matinee before Mental Health Night (1 pm, February 19) and a matinee on the fest’s last day (4 pm, February 22).
The festival will have a trio of speakers for the Up Abilities kickoff event (7 pm, February 15), which will be held at HCC West Loop South. Hearing-impaired singer-songwriter (and America’s Got Talent finalist Mandy Harvey is scheduled to start things off with a talk called "Hope, Dream, Believe, No Matter What…" Then, businessman and self-advocate Joseph JB Bensmihen, who was born with cerebral palsy, will step up to the mic for his talk titled "Taking Your Place at the Table." Finally, Dublin-based entrepreneur/adventurer Caroline Casey will close things out with "You Don’t Need Eyes to See — You Need Vision."
The kid stuff
Kids will also be able to take part in the ReelAbilities festivities. Throughout the week at the Children’s Museum of Houston, there will be ReelChildren screenings of films, including free, family-night screenings on February 15 and 22, from 5-8 pm. There will also be a Sensory Friendly Day (10 am-3 pm, February 19; $5 and free for members), where children on the spectrum with sensory processing disorders can check out the museum.
The live music
On the final night of the festival, local musicians, including sax man Kelly Dean and keyboardist Andrew Lienhard, will host an all-inclusive jazz and blues jam at White Oak Music Hall (7 pm, February 22), where musicians with disabilities are welcome to get onstage and join the pros. It’s a fitting finale to this festival, as people with disabilities are encouraged to tap into their creative skills.
ReelAbilities Houston Film Festival runs through February 22. Opening event, "Up Abilities," takes place February 15, and film screenings run February 18-22.