Seeing in the Dark: Film festival celebrates disability
by Belo Cipriani
People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States, according to the Current Population Survey, which is done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, despite the considerable size of this community, people with disabilities have had minimal representation in film. For three decades, the international disability film festival Superfest, which this year is being co-presented by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University and the Lighthouse for the Blind San Francisco, has given both emerging and established filmmakers a place to present edgy and new perspectives on disability on the silver screen.
On Saturday, October 22, at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, and Sunday, October 23, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Superfest will showcase 12 fresh disability films, as well as moderated discussions and Q&A sessions with directors.
The festival is the most accessible event of its kind, with ASL interpreters to cover live dialogue, closed captioning, audio description for the blind, wheelchair access, and a scent-free zone for people with fragrance sensitivity.
This year, there are two movies with queer content. Awake , a short, fictional movie, features a blind lesbian who ends up finding an unlikely friendship when a blind preacher with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes to her door. Directed by London-based, seasoned filmmaker Michael Achtman, the film was partially inspired by a 1963 Ingmar Bergman movie called Winter Light , about a pastor who loses faith.
The 54-year-old director has a long history of working with people with disabilities. "I work a lot with deaf and disabled artists in London, collaborating on theatre, film, and visual art projects," he said. "I also do a lot of audio description (also called video describing in North America) of films and visual art."
The second movie with a queer theme is Best and Most Beautiful Things, by Berkeley-based filmmaker Ariana Garfinkle. This film is the story of a precocious, young, blind, autistic woman struggling with isolation, until she opts to chase love and freedom in the most unexpected of places: a sex-positive BDSM community.
Garfinkle, 39, explained how this project came together: "Our director, Garrett Zevgetis, first met the star of the film, Michelle Smith, at Perkins School for the Blind outside Boston. He was so impressed with her bright personality and spirit and warmth that he started filming her at school. He wanted to tell the story of someone with a disability, but not make it a story all about disability. After she graduated, Michelle's life took several unexpected turns and we kept following her for six years. It became a film about one woman's surprising coming-of-age, and about embracing all the beautiful differences between us, as well as our common humanity."
Superfest will also be bestowing the following honors: best of festival (short), best of festival (feature), the P.K. Walker Innovation in Craft Award, advocacy award, disability justice award, Liane Yasumoto Judges' Choice Award, and "The Dissie" – an award that is given to a disability snub film.
"A disability snub film celebrates the message that if you're living with a disability, you're better off dead," said Emily Smith Beitiks, associate director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute at SFSU.
For people who may not be able to attend the festival, Smith Beitiks said to stay tuned for additional showings throughout the Bay Area. Also, some of the films will be available through San Francisco Government TV at www.sfgovtv.org.
For tickets, movie schedules, and more information, visit http://www.superfestfilm.com.
Belo Cipriani is a disability advocate, a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, the spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine – a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com.