ReelAbilities film festival puts a spotlight on people with disabilities

The ReelAbilities Film Festival is coming to Minnesota this fall. The event is the largest festival in the country dedicated […]

Generic Article graphic with Access Press logo

Cast members for Partnership Resources Inc.’s (PRI) recent western play are looking forward to the upcoming ReelAbilities Film Festival.

The ReelAbilities Film Festival is coming to Minnesota this fall. The event is the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. Films from around the world will be featured, both by and about people with disabilities.

Partnership Resources, Inc.(PRI) is working on plans for a five-day festival, starting in early November. “We just think it will be such a great fit for the Twin Cities, given the number of disability-related groups here,” said Dan Reed, director of marketing and development for PRI. As many as a dozen films will be shown as part of the festival. This will be the first such festival in Minnesota.

St. Louis Park-based PRI was selected by ReelAbilities of the Manhattan New York Jewish Community Center because of its mission and tenets to raise awareness, breakdown stereotypes and myths, provide opportunities for people with disabilities and for its reputation in pioneering groundbreaking partnerships in the community.

The organizers are lining up venues and funding to make the film festival a reality. Reed stated  that bringing ReelAbilities here will take a lot of hard work and fundraising, but that the end result will be worth it.

Many tasks will be available and Reed notes that the festival will offer plenty of sponsorship and volunteer opportunities, leading up to the event and during the event itself. An advisory committee will be formed, with a broad range of community leaders in both the cultural and disabilities communities.

Howdy, pardner! PRI clients love to perform.

Some partners have already lined up, including Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, Minneapolis-St. Paul Film Society and Highland Friendship Club. Disability advocacy organizations will be encouraged to sponsor screenings.

ReelAbilities was founded in New York City in 2007 and has since become a touring festival with showings in cities including Atlanta, Boston, Columbus, Cincinnati, Chicago, Washington, D.C. areas, Houston, Philadelphia and Richmond. In 2012 the festival screened films in 23 locations in all five of New York City’s boroughs.

All films screened by the festival are captioned and audio described. Programs are printed in Braille. The 2012 festivals featured films that spotlighted disabilities such as autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness and mental health.

How the film festival got to Minnesota is a story in itself. PRI provides services to adults with developmental disabilities. Active for more than 50 years, PRI has a long history of providing innovative programs and opportunities for its clients. The nonprofit currently provides services for about 250 individuals at three locations as well as at 40 community job sites.

PRI got into the arts by first bringing in visual artists to work with clients. “It was amazing to watch how our clients would learn with guest artists and would produce art of their own,” Reed said.

About six years ago a PRI client expressed interest in performing onstage. That led to a production of The Wizard of Oz. Other productions have followed, including Hairspray! the story of teen Tracy Turnblad, a 1960s-era television teen dance show and the issue of racial segregation.

Tony Award-winning composer Mark Shaiman, who produced Hairspray! on Broadway, saw a YouTube video of the PRI production and was impressed. “I was just overwhelmed. When I saw the video I immediately started clicking about, looking for who to contact to say thank you,” Shaiman said in an interview with WCCO-TV in fall 2011.

The YouTube video led to the documentary Born for the Stage about the PRI production. The film, which will be shown several times on TPT 2.2 March 2, has won awards.

In fall 2011 Shaiman and Hairspray! film author and director John Waters came to the Twin Cities to work with the PRI theater group and show Born for the Stage in Minneapolis. PRI has been at other film showings including one in Manhattan.

Reed says that while much work has already gone into planning the festival, many partners and volunteers will be needed. After speaking with two host cities regarding film selection, PRI has determined that festival organizers will review films chosen by the nine other host cities. Once 25 to 30 films have been reviewed, PRI clients and other partners will be involved in honing in on the 10 to 12 films to be screened.

One goal in bringing ReelAbilities here is to bring about a systemic change in the culture of the community to become more inclusive of adults, returning veterans and children with disabilities. “We’re especially interested in putting a spotlight on veterans—our wounded warriors,” Reed said.

The mission of ReelAbilities is to educates and change perceptions about the potential of individuals with disabilities. Goals including building of community, reducing the stigma of disability and giving everyone a chance to rethink their perceptions about people with disabilities.

Inclusion on all levels is a goal of the festival. Each of the movies screened during the festival will feature an interactive event to foster dialogue between the audience, the filmmakers, parents, professionals or persons with disabilities, to explore particular subjects depicted in the film.

Anyone interested in the film festival should contact Reed at (952) 925-1404 or



Many former refugees are helping to make Minnesota a better place for all"Keep your health insurance. Do you have Medical Assistance or MinnesotaCare? You can now get text messages when you need to take action to keep your insurance. Update your contact information to get texts."