What is problematic about representations of disability in film? A lot. More than we have time or space to discuss here. People with disabilities are hugely underrepresented both in front of the camera, as actors, and behind the camera, as filmmakers. Too often actors without disabilities play characters with disabilities, and characters with disabilities fill flat, stereotypical roles. These are just a few of the problems, and local nonprofit Disability Art and Culture Project (DACP) is challenging all of these and more with Portland ReelAbilities Film Festival.
[Image description: A man sits in front of a blank canvas, smiling. Behind him a woman, also smiling, prepares a table full of paints.]
May 27-29 at Alberta Rose Theatre, DACP will present a wide range of films all made by, starring and/or about people with disabilities. They include everything from Imber's Left Hand, a feature-length documentary about an artist with ALS whose painting process and style change dramatically as his body degenerates, to a three-minute comedy about a woman whose prosthetic hand falls off during a dance audition. View the full schedule here.
We're most looking forward to two showings during the festival. The first is Saturday Social Justice Night. DACP will show three films, all dealing with disability and social justice issues, followed by comments and discussion. This is exciting because disability is rarely considered in the context of social justice; more often it is considered as a health or medical issue. The second showing we are looking forward to is on Sunday night when DACP will screen films submitted by local filmmakers. Many of the local filmmakers will be at the theater, and we can't wait to meet them and hear what they have to say!
[Image description: Four adults seated in a row in front of a dark blue curtain. Electrical cables are visible on the floor beneath their chairs.]
Beyond showing audiences more nuanced representations of the disability community, DACP also wanted to equip more social justice-minded folks with the tools to make films, as well as amplify the voices of media makers from marginalized communities. What does this mean? Last week, one of DACP's board members, Cheryl Green, taught two free filmmaking classes. Participants storyboarded, filmed and edited one-minute movies on their personal devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.). These will be posted on the Portland ReelAbilities Facebook page. In addition, DACP filmed a panel about disability representation in film and tv with media makers from marginalized communities in front of a live audience, which will be available to watch online in June.
Disability Art and Culture Project was one of Northwest Health Foundation's Learning Together, Connecting Communities partners. We've also sponsored several of their events.