ReelAbilities festival promotes inclusion in Houston
Houstonians have 10 days in February to hear stories from those living with disabilities and to learn from free films, art and music that promote inclusion.
ReelAbilities Houston Film & Arts Festival runs Tuesday, Feb. 12, through Thursday, Feb. 21, and includes ReelPeople: UP Abilities, where three people share about their experience with their disabilities; ReelArt, which showcases work from artists; a Film Festival that features 13 films and documentaries; and ReelMusic, an evening presented by an inclusive group of musicians.
ReelAbilities started in New York City in 2007. This is the seventh year Houston has hosted its own festival, which is unique because of the several types of events it includes while other ReelAbilities events across the nation just have films.
“One of the goals of ReelAbilities is to educate people, to enlighten people, to erase those stigmas, but you do it in a way that is entertaining,” said ReelAbilities Houston Chair Susan Farb Morris.
Three speakers, including Jen Bricker, will kick off the festival with ReelPeople: UP Abilities from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the A.D. Players at the George Theater, located at 5420 Westheimer. Bricker was born without legs and given up for adoption. Her adoptive parents taught her to never say “can’t.” Growing up, she always loved to watch gymnastics on TV. Bricker will share about how she has become an accomplished tumbler and aerial performer.
Breakout sessions will follow and allow attendees to interact more closely with the speakers and ask questions. Farb Morris said UP Abilities will help attendees better recognize that those with disabilities are just people working to better their lives.
“I mean they’re just living their lives and trying to do the best that they can, just to see people in a different light and realize we all have our own abilities and disabilities,” Farb Morris said. “We have our own talents to celebrate. There’s a huge stigma that’s still associated with people with disabilities, and we want to work to chip away at that.”
The work of nationally known artist Ezra Roy will be on display at ReelArt beginning with a reception from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Center for Art and Photography at Celebration Company at 4131 South Braeswood Blvd. Roy has Down syndrome but is a talented creator. His mixed-media pieces vary from realism and abstraction to African and hip-hop themes. Roy started making art with his father when he was a young child.
He said about the show, “I hope people see what’s possible with a Dad like mine.”
ReelArt will also display pieces from more than 20 other artists from Celebration Company, which is an entrepreneurial program in Houston that encourages employees to have work goals and teaches them life and social skills. The artwork will be on hand to both observe and purchase through Friday, April 19.
The Film Festival will spotlight 13 films with inclusion themes from Sunday, Feb. 17, through Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Edwards Greenway Grand Palace Stadium 24, located at 3839 Weslayan St. Opening night will feature the award-winning “Far from the Tree.” Adapted from the best-selling book with the same name, it takes a look at how families are affected when parents and their children are very different from each other.
All the films are captioned and audio-described to make them more accessible and enjoyable for people of all abilities. For a full list of the films, visit https://tinyurl.com/ybovs9ec.
ReelMusic will bring the festival to a close from 7-9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, at White Oak Music Hall, located at 2915 N. Main St. It will include a house band and musicians with different disabilities all jamming rock, jazz and other tunes together.
Last year, about 15 musicians plus the house band members played, and Farb Morris said nearly all of them are excited to join in again this year. One musician played the guitar despite having just one hand. Farb Morris said it should be a fun and impactful evening.
“We have musicians whose lives have been changed by music. There are people who have had traumatic head injuries or who have had spinal cord injuries who thought their lives were over, and through music therapy for instance at TIRR Memorial Hermann, they have found a future to look forward to,” she said. “You get the goosebumps when you go, and there are times you’re almost brought to tears that you’re so moved by musicians.”
JFS Alexander Institute for Inclusion has worked with the Houston Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities to make this year’s ReelAbilities festival a success, along with the help of lead sponsors Bristow Group and TIRR Memorial Hermann.
Farb Morris said she hopes the festival will help to create a more understanding and inclusive city and also jobs.
“The bottom line is we want to have inclusion in the workplace,” Farb Morris said. “There’s a great percentage of people in the disabilities community who don’t have employment opportunities, so we need to [reach] people who are in hiring positions.”
All events are free except for ReelPeople: UP Abilities, which costs $18. Tickets can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/y795mfw7. For the other events, registration is requested at www.reelabilitieshouston.org.