Rodef Shalom Congregation & University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory

October 22 – October 30
Various times

The second annual ReelAbilities Pittsburgh: Disabilities Film Festival will showcase films about the lives, stories and artistic expression of people with different disabilities. Featuring film screenings, talks and receptions, the cinema series is co-presented by JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum, which will host its 22nd annual festival in April of 2015. Teaming up with JFilm to present ReelAbilities is the
FISA Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of women, girls and people with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The festival’s two venues—Rodef Shalom Congregation and University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory (HERL)—were both selected for their accessibility. Sharing real stories on screen, the unique festival aims to raise awareness, promote dialogue, change perceptions and celebrate the vast and vital contributions that people with disabilities make to society.

The festival kicks off on October 22nd with a screening of CinemAbility at Rodef Shalom. Providing an in-depth look at the evolution of disability in entertainment, this dynamic documentary goes behind-the-scenes to interview filmmakers, studio execs, film historians and stars—including with Ben Affleck, Jamie Foxx and William H. Macy—and incorporates vivid clips from some of Hollywood’s most beloved motion pictures and TV programs. From Charlie Chaplin to X-Men, CinemAbility examines the enormous role that Hollywood has played in shaping public perceptions of disability in America and the powerful impact that entertainment and the media have on society, while also exploring how the portrayal of people with disabilities has evolved over time.

CinemAbility will be introduced by Kristy Trautmann of the FISA Foundation. Angela Rockwood—creator, producer and star of The Sundance Channel’s Push Girls—will speak after the film. A reception featuring vegan, Kosher and gluten-free options will follow the program.

ReelAbilities heads to HERL @ Bakery Square on October 26th to screen Touch of the Light. The 2012 Taiwanese film portrays a young, gifted and blind pianist who leaves his rural village to attend university in the big city, where he struggles to fit in with his classmates. Based on the true life story of Huang Yu-Siang, who stars as himself, Touch of the Light celebrates the triumphs of those who pursue their dreams and the power of friendship.

Enjoy a performance by The Woodlands Music Ensemble before the film, and live music by pianist Shailen Abram after the screening. Kate Seelman of Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences will introduce the film. After the program, enjoy a guided tour of HERL, to see 3-D printers, assistive robots and Smart House features—all being developed locally to aid people with disabilities to adapt their environment and promote independence.

Additional titles include the Belgian film, Come As You Are, which follows a group of three friends in search of independence, adventure and intimacy: “on a quest to lose their virginity, the young men embark on a road trip in search of a brothel that caters to people with disabilities, challenging their parents and caregivers along the way.” Appropriate for ages 16 and older.

ReelAbilities wraps up on October 30th at Rodef Shalom, with a screening of the American film, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors. Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival, the 2013 cinematic odyssey explores the world through the eyes of a young boy with autism, as his family struggles to make that world a better place for him. Following a particularly hard day, 13-year old Ricky escapes into the NYC subway, where he loses track of time and space and time within the system’s sprawling underground labyrinth. Find out what ensues when his immigrant family frantically searches for him.

The film’s director, Sam Fleischner (Brooklyn), and young star, Jesus Sanchez-Velez (Panama City), will speak following the film. A dessert reception with vegan, Kosher and gluten-free options will follow the program.

“People with disabilities are such an underrepresented population on film. It has always been important to us to include individuals with disabilities in JFilm Festival, so this was already part of what we were doing prior to ReelAbilities, “says Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of JFilm, who expects the festival to be an annual event. “This is the first disability-themed festival in Pittsburgh, and our goal is to continue every year.”

View a complete ReelAbilities Film Festival schedule. Purchase tickets. Reservations are recommended for the receptions.

Those requiring accommodations to attend, please call 412-992-5203 or e-mail:

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.