REELABILITIES FILM FESTIVAL SHOWCASES PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

One in four American adults live with a disability but when it comes to representation on television and in film, people with disabilities are still largely unseen, unheard and inaccurately depicted. But that may soon be changing after the Academy Awards success of films like CODA, starring a trio of deaf actors and focusing on the only hearing member of a Massachusetts family. In New York, the JCC Manhattan’s ReelAbilities Film Festival is back and leading the nationwide push for inclusion and accessibility with their largest and most diverse lineup yet. Festival Director Isaac Zablocki joins us to discuss the upcoming week long event and this major turning point for disability inclusion.

For more information on ReelAbilities Film Festival, click here.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' I'M JACK FORD.

1 IN 4 AMERICAN ADULTS LIVES WITH A DISABILITY.

WHEN IT COMES TO REPRESENTATION ON SCREEN, PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES ARE STILL LARGELY UNSEEN AND UNHEARD.

WE COULD, HOWEVER, BE AT A REAL TURNING POINT FOLLOWING THE RECEPTION AND SUCCESS OF 'CODA,' THE FILM STARRING THREE DEAF ACTORS AND FOCUSSING ON A HEARING MEMBER OF A MASSACHUSETTS FAMILY.

HERE IN NEW YORK, THE JCC MANHATTAN'S REEL ABILITIES FILM FESTIVAL IS DRIVING THE NATIONWIDE PUSH FOR DEEPER INCLUSION.

THE FESTIVAL IS BACK THIS APRIL 7th THROUGH APRIL 13th, IN PERSON AND ONLINE.

TO SHARE THE STORIES AND THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.

HERE'S A LOOK AT ONE OF THE FEATURED DOCUMENTARIES TITLED 'ANY GIVEN DAY,' WHICH FOCUSES ON THE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS IN CHICAGO.

DO YOU KNOW HOW I THOUGHT ABOUT STARTING THIS MOVIE?

I WAS HOSPITALIZED DURING THE MAKING OF THIS MOVIE.

JUST TO START IT WITH THAT.

WHEN HALF THE MENTAL HEALTH CLINICS IN CHICAGO CLOSED, THE JAIL POPULATION EXPLODED.

I GOT DOCUMENTED SCHIZOPHRENIA.

BUT I'VE BEEN HEARING VOICES SINCE I WAS A LITTLE KID.

GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE.

HOW CAN I BE MENTALLY ILL AND AT THE SAME TIME BE A CRIMINAL?

WHEN I GOT TO JAIL, I WOUND UP LOSING CUSTODY OF BOTH OF MY CHILDREN.

I DON'T KNOW HOW HIS MEMORY IS GOING TO BE OF ME.

HI, ANTHONY!

I'VE STRUGGLED WITH MENTAL ILLNESS FOR MOST OF MY LIFE.

♪ RAIN RAIN GO AWAY

THERE'S GOOD PERIODS AND THEN IT COMES BACK.

WHEN YOU'RE DEPRESSED, TIME MOVES BY VERY SLOW.

VERY, VERY SLOW.

YOU CAN RETREAT INTO A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN'T COME BACK FROM.

IT'S KIND OF LIKE YOU'RE IN A MAZE AND YOU KNOW YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET OUT OF IT BUT YOU'RE STILL WALKING THROUGH IT LIKE EVERYTHING'S A-OKAY.

WHEN THOSE TIMES COME --

I AM THAT LIGHT.

-- IT'S NOT PRETTY.

ARE YOU SCARED OF ME?

I SHOULD CALL THE POLICE.

I DO NOT WANT TO FIND MY BROTHER DEAD.

SOMETHING'S WRONG.

I'M WORRIED ABOUT YOU.

THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME.

I FEEL FREE.

DO YOU THINK WE'LL MAKE IT THROUGH?

YES.

I DON'T THINK WE CAN LOOK AWAY FROM WHAT'S BAD.

LIFE SOMETIMES IS SAD.

AND SOMETIMES IT'S CHAOTIC.

BUT SOMETIMES LIFE IS PEACHY.

I'M JUST TRYING TO TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.

YOU DON'T NEVER KNOW WHAT THE NEXT DAY HOLDS.

AND JOINING US NOW TO TALK MORE ABOUT THE REEL ABILITIES FILM FESTIVAL, WE'RE DELIGHTED TO HAVE WITH US ITS DIRECTOR, ISAAC ZABLOCKI, ALSO THE DIRECTOR OF FILM PROGRAMS AT THE JCC MANHATTAN.

ISAAC, WELCOME TO YOU, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

SO, I TALKED IN THE INTRODUCTION A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE FESTIVAL, BUT LET ME START WITH ASKING YOU THE BEGINNING -- THE ORIGIN QUESTION, IF YOU WILL.

WHY AND HOW DID THE FILM FESTIVAL GET STARTED?

WELL, DISABILITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN APART OF MY LIFE AND I CONSIDER MYSELF PART OF THAT COMMUNITY AND VERY MUCH CONNECTED TO THIS COMMUNITY.

BUT I REALLY CAME TO IT FROM THE FILM PERSPECTIVE, AND WHEN I WAS -- RUNNING THE FILM PROGRAM AT THE MARLENE MEYERSON JCC MANHATTAN, I SEE FILM AS A WAY TO CHANGE PEOPLE.

AND IT WAS CLEAR THAT THERE WAS, AS YOU MENTIONED, A LACK OF REPRESENTATION OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES IN FILM, AND MORE SO, EVEN THE FILMS THAT DID EXIST, THEY WEREN'T BEING SHOWN.

AND WE WERE ONE OF THE FEW PLACES THAT WOULD TAKE THOSE CHANCES AND SHOW THESE KINDS OF FILMS AND IT WAS CLEAR THAT THIS TOPIC NEEDED A FESTIVAL AND I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO MEET MY COFOUNDER, ANITA ALTMAN, WHO HELPED GET THIS OFF THE GROUND AND TURNED THIS INTO A COMMUNITY PROJECT.

YOU SAY FILM, NOT JUST ENTERTAINING, BUT CAN BE A MARVELOUS TEACHING TOOL FOR US WHEN USED DIRECTLY, OBVIOUSLY, AND THE FESTIVAL DOES DO THAT.

I JUST GIVE US A SENSE OF SOME OF THE TYPES OF THEMES IN FILMS THAT YOU WERE LOOKING FOR FOR THIS YEAR.

FOR THIS YEAR, WE WERE REALLY LOOKING FOR, I'D SAY, BEYOND JUST GOOD FILMS WITH GOOD STORY TELLING, ALSO FIRST-PERSON STORIES.

WE REALLY WANTED TO HEAR FROM THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY AND WE'RE SEEING MORE AND MORE OF THAT, THAT IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE COMMUNITY, BUT RATHER -- RATHER FROM THE COMMUNITY IN ALL SENSES, AND THAT MEANS HAVING AUTHENTIC REPRESENTATION AND ACTUALLY BEING TOLD FROM WITHIN, FROM THAT PERSPECTIVE.

SO WE WERE LOOKING FOR AS MUCH DIVERSITY AS POSSIBLE, BOTH WITHIN THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF DISABILITY, BUT ALSO IN ALL SENSES OF THE WORD.

ALL RIGHT, WITH THAT, NOW YOU AS OUR INTRODUCTION HERE, GIVE US A LIST AND MAYBE A LITTLE CAPSULIZATION -- I KNOW YOU GOT SO MANY OF THEM, SO, THIS IS LIKE ASKING A PARENT WHO'S THEIR FAVORITE CHILD, I REALIZE THAT, BUT GIVE US A SUM HIGHLIGHT, FEATURE FILMS FIRST AND THEN SOME OF THE SHORTS THAT WILL BE PRESENTED.

SO, OF COURSE OUR OPENING NIGHT FILM IS A FILM CALLED 'THE SPECIALS.'

AND IT WAS A HUGE FILM IN EUROPE AND IT'S FINALLY MAKING ITS WAY TO THE U.S. AND WE'RE EXCITED TO PRESENT THAT AND IT IS ON THE TOPIC OF AUTISM AND NE NEURODIVERSITY.

THE CLOSING NIGHT FILM IS A FILM CALLED 'IMPERFECT' AND TELLS THE STORY OF REGAN LINTON, WHO IS GOING TO BE AT THE FESTIVAL WITH US AND A THEATER GROUP OF ACTORS WITH ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF DISABILITIES.

SO, THERE'S REALLY SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE THERE.

AND WE HAVE A LOT OF FEATURE FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES, I'LL HIGHLIGHT, OF COURSE, 'AMAZING GRACE' IS JUST A GREAT DOCUMENT LITTLE ABOUT A MUSICIAN WHO HAS A DISABILITY AND HER JOURNEY AND CONNECTION TO ART.

AND AT THE SAME TIME, THERE'S A FEATURE FILM CALLED 'POPPY,' WHICH IS A NARRATIVE ABOUT A YOUNG WOMAN WITH DOWN SYNDROME WHO IS LOOKING TO BECOME A MOTOR MECHANIC AND KIND OF DEALS WITH THE TOPIC OF EMPLOYMENT AND DISABILITY, WHICH IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT TOPIC.

AND JUST TELLS A BEAUTIFUL STORY OF BEING YOUNG AND LOVE AND LIFE.

I'M GOING TO ASK YOU THIS QUESTION, THIS FLOWS FROM THE FACT THAT I HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE AND THE HONOR TO BE HONORARY CHAIR OF THE GARDEN STATE FILM FESTIVAL A FEW YEARS BACK, AND WHAT I LEARNED IS THE INTRICACIES OF THE SELECTION PROCESS.

TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THEN YOU GO ABOUT DETERMINING WHICH FILMS, WHICH SHORTS, WHICH ARE GOING TO BE USED FOR THIS YEAR'S FESTIVAL?

WOW, THERE'S A LOT THERE.

SO, WE HAVE COMMITTEES AND WE HAVE A LOT OF EXPERTS THAT WE CONSULT WITH AND WE TRY TO HAVE AS DIVERSE A PROGRAM AS PROGRAM.

WE WANT TO INCLUDE AS MANY DIFFERENT KINDS OF DISABILITY.

HIGH QUALITY FILMS AT ALL TIME.

THE LAST THING WE WANT TO DO IS SHOW A LOW QUALITY FILM JUST BECAUSE IT REPRESENTS A NEW DISABILITY.

WE WANT TO BE SURE THAT THIS IS OF THE HIGHEST QUALITY, EVERYTHING WE PRESENT.

WE FIGHT A LOT.

IT'S AMAZING.

THERE'S NO FILM THAT EVERYONE AGREES ON.

I HAVE NEVER --

THAT'S FASCINATING.

14 YEARS OF THE FESTIVAL.

JUST SHOWS SOMETHING ABOUT HUMANITY, HOW WE ARE ALL SO DIFFERENT.

NINE OUT OF TEN PEOPLE CAN LOVE A CERTAIN FILM AND ONE PERSON JUST WON'T OR VICE VERSA.

AND WE TRY TO HEAR ALL THE VOICES AND TRY TO LISTEN TO ALSO HOW TO BE AS PROGRESSIVE AS POSSIBLE AND INCLUDE VOICES IN THE MOST RESPONSIBLE WAY.

JUST RESPONSIBLE REPRESENTATION IS, I THINK, A KEY ELEMENT FOR US.

AND WE LIKE TO PUSH THE ENVELOPE AND REALLY BRING STUFF OUT THERE THAT'S A LITTLE EDGIER AND A LITTLE BIT MORE CHALLENGING FOR THE COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO HAVE DONE IT AND WE'RE PROUD TO -- TO OFTEN HAVE BEEN THE FIRST IN MANY OF THESE AREAS.

I FORGOT TO MENTION BEFORE THE SHORT FILMS WHICH, YOU KNOW, SHOULD NEVER BE OVERLOOKED.

THERE'S REALLY SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE.

COVERING RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILY SHORTS, SHORTS JUST ON THE TOPIC OF AUTISM, THEY WERE DOING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE MARVELS OF MEDIA PROJECT AND DEAF SHORTS, SHORTS THAT ARE ALL ON THE TOPIC OF DEAFNESS AND MUCH, MUCH MORE.

SO THEY ARE REALLY SOME OF MY FAVORITE MOVIES EVERY YEAR AND I'D SAY, I MENTIONED PUSHING THE ENV ENVELOPE, THE SHORT FILMS, WHEN YOU ARE A SHORT FILMMAKER, YOU CAN DO THAT BEST AND A LOT OF THESE SHORT FILMS ARE REALLY TOUCHING ON NEW GROUND.

THAT'S A REALLY GOOD POINT.

IT'S ALSO IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO REALIZE SHORT FILM DOESN'T MEAN NOT AS GOOD FILM.

IT MEANS A COMPELLING, POWERFUL FILM, IT'S JUST TOLD IN A DIFFERENT WAY.

LET ME JUST GET -- REAL QUICKLY, IF YOU COULD, I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION THAT THE RECEPTION, THE SUCCESS OF THE FILM 'CODA.'

WHY DO YOU THINK THAT HAS BEEN RECEIVED SO WONDERFULLY THIS YEAR?

LISTEN, WE'RE AMIDST A REVOLUTION, HONESTLY.

WE'RE AT A TIPPING POINT AND AS FAR AS DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY AND DISABILITY INCLUSION, I THINK THAT GOES FOR, IN GENERAL DIVERSITY EFFORTS AND THIS HAS BEEN, YOU KNOW, THE -- THE ADA, THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT PASSED 31 YEARS AGO AND THE CULTURAL CHANGE HAS NOT HAPPENED YET AND THIS HAS BEEN AN UPHILL BATTLE.

AND WE ARE PART OF THAT MOVEMENT.

WE'RE PROUD TO BE PART OF THAT MOVEMENT AND WE'VE BEEN WATCHING THIS CHANGE OVER THE 14 YEARS OF THE FESTIVAL.

WE'VE SEEN DRAMATIC CHANGE.

WE'RE SEEING IT AT THE OSCARS MORE AND MORE EVERY YEAR, AND, OF COURSE, THIS YEAR, 'CODA' BEING THAT LEAD VOICE THERE.

THERE'S A GREAT FILM 'AUDIBLE' THAT'S A NOMINEE THAT'S FANTASTIC.

AND WE'RE SEEING MORE AND MORE REPRESENTATION.

IT'S -- WE'VE GOT A LONG WAIL TO GO, WE ARE NOT THERE YET, BUT I'M PROUD AND HONORED TO SEE THAT WE'RE SEEING CHANGE AND WE'RE SEEING MORE FILMS THAT WE CAN INCLUDE EVERY YEAR AND THAT MAKES US, YOU KNOW, MAKES OUR JOB EVEN BETTER.

YOU MENTIONED SOMETHING AND THIS WILL BE MY LAST QUESTION TO YOU, GOT LITTLE BIT LESS THAN A MINUTE AND A HALF HERE, AND YOU'VE SAID THIS BEFORE, THAT ONE OF YOUR GREAT HOPES, AS SUCCESSFUL AS THIS FESTIVAL HAS BEEN, ONE OF YOUR GREAT HOPES IS THAT AT SOME POINT IN TIME IT MIGHT BE SORT OF RENDERED OBSOLETE.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

I MEAN, SOME DAY I HOPE THE PLAYING FIELD IS COMPLETELY LEVELED AND THERE'S ROOM FOR ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE TO HAVE AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY TO GET ROLES, TO HAVE THEIR STORY TOLD, TO BE PRESENTED, TO BE APART OF THE NARRATIVE, AND IN FIRST PERSON.

AND, YOU KNOW, I THINK THAT THEN WE WON'T NEED TO NECESSARILY HAVE TO CHANGE THINGS WITH THESE -- WITH THIS KIND OF FESTIVAL.

AND PREVENT THESE FILMS, BECAUSE THEY'LL JUST BE PART OF EVERY -- EVERY FILM THAT WE SEE OUT THERE.

AND TRUTHFULLY, THAT'S OUR GOAL.

REAL QUICK, FOLKS WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THE FESTIVAL, WHERE DO THEY GO?

REELABILITIES.COM/NEW YORK, BECAUSE WE ARE IN CITIES ALL ACROSS THE WORLD.

BE SURE TO CLICK ON THE NEW YORK CITY ONE.

AND YOU CAN FIND ALL THE INFORMATION.

WE'RE GOING TO BE IN PERSON AND FULLY VIRTUAL AND FULLY ACCESSIBLE IN BOTH RAISING THE BAR ON ACCESSIBILITY.

GREAT TO HEAR, ISAAC.

ONCE AGAIN, ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL YEAR, GOOD LUCK WITH IT ALL.

YOU'VE DON WONDERFUL WORK.

AND WE'LL LOOK FORWARD TO IT ALL THIS YEAR.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

YOU TAKE CARE NOW.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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