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Superfest 2017 Ups the Ante on Film Festival Diversity and Accessibility

Get ready for the 31st year of Superfest International Disability Film Festival on November 4 and 5 in San Francisco and Berkeley. We’re thrilled to announce our spectacular and diverse lineup, co-produced with the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University.

“When you’re a showing a film by or about someone with a disability, you can’t ignore the needs of the disabled audience,” says Emily Beitiks, Associate Director of the Longmore Institute, which co-sponsors the festival with LightHouse for the Blind. “The technology exists. It’s something every modern film festival needs to consider.”

As always, Superfest will be furnished with a wide range of accessible accommodations: audio description, open captions, ASL interpretation, audience-integrated wheelchair seating, close-up seating for people with low vision or who are deaf or hard of hearing, a chemical free and scent free area set back from rest of audience, a place to retreat, gender neutral restrooms, easy access to public transportation including BART and MUNI, and ramp access to the stage.

At Superfest 2017, more people with disabilities will be telling their own stories through film than ever before. Our filmmakers are geographically diverse as well; we’ll be screening films shot and produced in Myanmar, Colombia, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Canada, Italy and the United States. Furthermore, we will welcome filmmakers from more than half of these films in dialogue with our local community and each other to deepen the global conversation and movement around disability film.

Our best-of-festival feature, Deej, embodies this value as a one-of-a-kind collaboration between a veteran filmmaker and a nonspeaking autistic person. Director and producer Robert Rooy and subject and producer DJ Savarese share editorial control as they attempt to navigate the challenges of representing autism on-screen and the resources for parents with autistic children to help them out.

A local film, On Beat, tells the story of two deaf parents with hearing children who unite over a shared love of music. Get to know the filmmaker here.

And, without further ado, a complete list of our SuperFest 2017 films…

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, AFTERNOON

Buy tickets for Saturday’s showing.

CHIEF

Directed by Amir Jaffer

United States, 2016, Documentary Short

This reverent ode to the service dog tells the story of German immigrant Sonja Ohldag, who is diagnosed with a seizure disorder after moving to the U.S. in 1999. Unable to afford a service animal from an organization, Sonja trains her dogs herself and takes a chance on Chief, who is not your average service dog.

MIND/GAME: THE UNQUIET JOURNEY OF CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW

Directed by Rick Goldsmith

United States, 2015, Feature Documentary

Basketball superstar Chamique Holdsclaw faced six felony counts, the possibility of prison and public attacks on her character. Her rollercoaster attempts at recovery from near suicide reveal an uphill battle against the stigma of psychiatric disability and show a deep journey that is powerful, revelatory, instructive and real.

WHEN BRENDEN MET HIROE

Directed by Steve Mayer-Miller

Australia/Japan 2016, Documentary Short

A photographer from Australia returns to Japan to reunite with his friend Hiroe, who he met at a blind and deaf/blind workshop the year before. The pair spends an unforgettable day together.

THE BARBER OF AUGUSTA

Directed by Michèle Hozer

Canada, 2016, Documentary Short

Liane Yasumoto’s Jury’s Choice Award

Toronto native Matthew Genser goes to great lengths to find his unexpected superpower: cutting hair. Like all superheroes, he has a dark side; but in his costume, he’s invincible. Put on your cape and get lined up!

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, EVENING

TRAVELLER

Directed by Nwaye Zar Che Soe, Mine Aung Lin Tun, Pyae Zaw Phyo

Myanmar/Japan, 2014, Documentary Short

Disability Justice Award

Co-presented with CAAMFest

A young woman born with a disability searches for a career despite rampant discrimination. She travels to Japan where she finds strength in disability activism and community, and returns home with a newfound sense of pride.

ON THE OUTS: REENTRY FOR INMATES WITH DISABILITIES

Directed by Jordan Melograna

United States, 2016, Documentary short

“On the Outs” follows three inmates with disabilities as they prepare for reentry, get discharged and navigate the challenges of returning to their old lives. Produced by the Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Prison Project, this documentary scrutinizes the prison institution and its treatment of inmates with physical and emotional disabilities.

STAB: LIFE AS A VOODOO DOLL

Directed by Jeanette Castillo

United States, 2017, Animated Short

An animated comic medical memoir dedicated to all those who live with chronic illness or disability. Writer and director Jeanette Castillo pairs her tongue-and-cheek personal account of living with Type 1 diabetes with criticism of the American healthcare system.

SIGN

Directed by Andrew Keenan-Bolger

United States, 2016, Short

Two men meet on a train—and a tender and unspoken love story unfolds. Through vignettes, music and sign language, “Sign” follows the relationship between Ben (hearing) and Aaron (Deaf) as they navigate life’s milestones side by side.

IN CRYSTAL SKIN

Directed by Michaela O’Brien

United States/Colombia, 2016, Documentary Short

Best of Festival, Short

In Bogotá, Colombia, a charismatic 11-year-­old named Maria lives with the limitations imposed by a rare skin disease. Her fierce bond with her mother is tested and strengthened as they struggle to preserve Maria’s swiftly passing childhood.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5, AFTERNOON

Buy tickets for Sunday’s showing.

DEEJ

Directed by Rob Rooy

United States, 2017, Documentary Feature

Best of Festival, Feature

After being abandoned by his birth parents, DJ found not only a loving family but a life in words through a text-to-voice synthesizer. Told by DJ himself, “Deej” was filmed over six years in the American Midwest and chronicles his journey to become Oberlin’s first non-speaking, autistic student.

LEFTY & LOOSEY

Directed by Zico Abrar

United States, 2016, Fictional Short

In this techy ode to film noir, two amputee veterans turned private investigators uncover a diabolical plot and must overcome their fears to crack the code and save the world.

RHIZOPHORA

Directed by Julia Metzger-Traber, Davide De Lillis

Germany/Vietnam, 2015, Documentary Short

Forty years after the Vietnam War, the toxic remnants of Agent Orange have not faded. In this dreamlike meditation on the impact of war and the resilience of humanity, “Rhizophora” follows 11 disabled Vietnamese youth on a whimsical, poignant and whirling journey through a day in their lives.

ON BEAT

Directed by Cheng Zhang, Reid Davenport

United States, 2015, Documentary Short

This documentary short follows the lives of a deaf couple with hearing children and the unexpected outlet that brings their family closer together.

WELL DONE

Directed by Riccardo Di Gerlando

Italy, 2016, Short

A sharply-dressed young man with Down syndrome sneaks out of his house to visit an art museum and causes a disruption. Through humor and irreverence, this film reminds us that art can be interpreted by everyone, not just the “experts.”

THE CHILI STORY

Directed by Patty Berne

United States, 2014, Animated Short

P.K. Walker Innovation in Craft Award

A true story about desire and the arousal of taboo on a BART train.

Special thanks to:

Sponsor logos: George Lucas Family Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Ned Nobari Foundation, Golden Gate Regional FoundationSponsor Logos: Telecare, Barron & Lam LLP, Gatepath, JetBlue, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Shauna Farabaugh Somatic Sex Education

Next Weekend is Superfest: Meet Filmmaker Michaela O’Brien

Now in its 31st year, Superfest International Disability Film Festival (November 4 – 5, in multiple locations in San Francisco and Berkeley) is gearing up for its spectacular, diverse lineup of films shot and produced in Myanmar, Colombia, Germany, Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Canada, Italy and the United States.  

To get you excited for Superfest, we spoke with filmmaker Michaela O’Brien about her short documentary film In Crystal Skin, winner of the Superfest’s 2017 “Best of Festival – Short” award. The film tells the story of Maria, a charismatic eleven­-year-­old growing up in Bogotá, Colombia with an unusual skin disorder. Her fierce bond with her mother is tested and strengthened as they struggle to preserve Maria’s swiftly passing childhood.

O’Brien’s film will be featured at Superfest’s 6 p.m. screening on Saturday, November 4 at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley. Buy your tickets today.

Protagonist Maria and her mother ride in a car.


Read the conversation below between Michaela and the Longmore Institute on Disability’s Celina Garcia. 

Celina Garcia: What made you decide to make this film? What drew you to this subject?

Michaela O’Brien: In Crystal Skin began in 2010 after I traveled to Colombia to work as a photographer with a foundation that served children in Bogotá.  While shooting, I met one of the main characters, and her grit and optimism captured my interest. The film was born from that chance encounter.

As a two-woman crew, Melissa and I filled all production roles while living alongside our characters in their homes. This allowed us to intimately experience their day-to-day routines and gave a rawness to our storytelling. We did all of our fundraising from a grassroots level by hosting events in our neighborhood and crowdsourcing through Indiegogo. It took a lot of stamina to keep an independent film afloat over the course of four years. We committed ourselves to raising funds, taking the time to do so between work and graduate school, but our dedication to the strength of the film’s characters kept us focused.

Emotionally engaging and visually stirring, In Crystal Skin offers glimpses of the fortitude embodied by those with Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). This documentary highlights a dedicated network of patients, parents and doctors battling just one of the world’s 7,000 rare diseases. Our hope is that the personal experiences captured in this film will spur much needed dialogue about managing life with a rare disease.

CG: What were your preconceptions of Maria’s disability before making this film, and what did you learn through the process? How did that inform your stylistic/filmic decisions in building this story?

MO’B: While making In Crystal Skin I have learned a great deal about hope and perseverance from patients. I am continually impressed with patient’s ability to remain positive in the face of adversity. The people I have met with rare diseases want to move forward in life just like anyone else, and they have dreams and aspirations which they live to fulfill. One of the most beautiful forms of intelligence that those with rare diseases have is the understanding of uniqueness, and how to be proud of it. EB and rare disease patients desire to understand and express their individuality and deserve that utmost respect for that courageous act.

There are many moments from filming in Bogotá, Colombia with the subjects of In Crystal Skin which stand out in my mind. One particular conversation was with a young mother named Jackeline, whose 12-year-old daughter has dystrophic EB. One day while filming she broke down in tears and expressed very candidly the difficulties of being a mother of a child with a rare disease – the barriers it puts on a young woman basically confined to the house in order to provide constant care for her child, the financial burdens it places on a low-income family, and the difficulties of wanting your child to be treated normally, while understanding the fragility of their physical and emotional well-being. We talked for hours and in a way it was a cathartic experience both for her and for me. The conversations I have had both on and off camera bring the film closer to understanding the uniqueness of managing life with a rare disease.

CG: Why is film an important medium for increasing understanding of people with disabilities?

MO’B: Living with a rare disease which currently has no cure is tremendously difficult both for the patient and their family or caretaker. There is no end in sight for their disease or for the difficulties it causes. It can be a struggle to muster hope for the future when science can offer patients no resolution. EB is a disease of constant management, it requires intense care and maintenance, so though there is no cure, patients with EB hope for products and orphan drugs to alleviate their wounds and lessen the routine of constant care. Filmmaking is an exercise in relating to humanity by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

For both a filmmaker and a viewer, it can be an extremely powerful and transformative experience. Through the strength and struggle of the film’s characters, In Crystal Skin sheds light on life experiences rarely heard of, but which are universally relatable.

CG: What does being a part of Superfest, where your film will be seen by a primarily disabled audience, mean to you as a filmmaker?

MO’B: I am so excited to have the film at Superfest! To have the film be viewed by disabled and rare disease communities was one of the ultimate goals of the film. With In Crystal Skin I hope to empower disabled individuals and their families to share their stories and give voice to those who are very much in need of further scientific research and increased dialogue to spur social change and resources for the disabled.

CG: What do you think about the newly audio described version of your film?

MO’B: Having the film audio described was an interesting process. It was difficult for me to get used to because it becomes so much more an auditory experience and I had become used to mainly relying on the visuals with less dialogue. I am very pleased that having the film audio described will make it more accessible to the visually impaired.

Join us Saturday, November 4 at 6 p.m. to experience this important film for yourself!

Superfest Filmmaker Reid Davenport Tells the Story of Deaf parents with Hearing Children

Reid Davenport is an award-winning documentarian whose films focus on people with disabilities. Founder and co-director of Through My Lens, Davenport has been creating films and public speaking for five years. As a man with cerebral palsy, his hope is to inspire disabled students to share their personal stories, as he has done. “There is a tremendous space for amateur videos now on YouTube and social media and a few people with disabilities have already grasped that fact and taken back the narrative,” he says. “That’s what we want to encourage, take back and start to chip away at the misrepresentations of disability.”

Reid Davenport speaks onstage to an audience. 

 

Reid’s short film On Beat, co-directed by Cheng Zhang, will be shown on Sunday, November 5 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco for 2017’s Superfest International Disability Festival.

On Beat follows Larry and Tanisha Cotton, a Deaf couple with three hearing children. The family uses music to bond and express themselves. Davenport and Zhang discovered the Cotton family with another story in mind, having heard about Uber’s efforts to hire Deaf drivers (Larry is a driver), but once he came across their gospel group, he knew he had a different story to tell.

Davenport and co-director Cheng Zhang collaborated by playing off each other’s strengths. Because “her strength was shooting,” and Davenport “was more involved in the interviewing,” they “balanced each other quite well.” Davenport also brought a disability aesthetic to the film, as he has in other projects as well, by “shying away from medicalization of the disability, trying not to make a portrait a pathological impairment, instead focusing on the social impact of being disabled.”

The main thing Davenport wants other filmmakers to know is that with the proliferation of social media comes a unique opportunity. “The authority over the audience that they have is unprecedented, so they need to tell their stories.” He urges them to embrace stories about disability and not shy away from it.

Watch the trailer to On Beat below and buy your tickets to catch it at Superfest today: