ReelAbilities rolls ’em in June

Many actors are playing a role in the ReelAbilities Film Festival, set for June 11-14 in the Twin Cities. Organizers […]

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Many actors are playing a role in the ReelAbilities Film Festival, set for June 11-14 in the Twin Cities. Organizers continue to seek volunteers, sponsor support and of course, audience members.

Venues include the Union Depot in St. Paul, MacPhail Center in Minneapolis, the Cinema Grill in New Hope and the Doubletree Hotel in St. Louis Park. A complete listing of films, volunteer and sponsorship opportunities is posted on the festival’s website, at

The website also offers links to purchase tickets. Ticket prices are $10 for movies, $35 for the opening reception and $80 for the Taste of Art reception. Winning short films from the Call for Entries to Minnesota Filmmakers of All Abilities will be screened during the opening reception. Partnership Resources Inc. (PRI), Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota, Twin Cities Public Television (tptMN), and Minnesota State Council on Disabilities created the program. The presentation will also appear on tptMN.

Reelabilities opens on Thursday, June 11 with free morning and early afternoon screenings at Union Depot. Free screenings are also offered Friday, June 12. The festival will culminate on Sunday, June 14 with a Hollywood-themed Taste of Art reception, at Doubletree. Crowd film favorites will be revealed during the gala closing night event, co-sponsored by the American Culinary Federation, Minneapolis Chefs Chapter.

“This is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation that turned the country’s focus to including individuals with disabilities in more areas of everyday life. The film festival reflects how far we’ve come. Each film focuses on abilities rather than disabilities,” said Dan Reed, marketing director for festival organizer and host PRI. “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. This festival celebrates how we all can deal with challenges in a constructive way.”

“After our first ReelAbilities Film Festival in 2013, almost every person we surveyed told us that they wanted more of a Minnesota connection with the filmmakers,” said Reed. Organizers listened, so this year’s event will feature films by more than 20 local filmmakers, including Minneapolis director and filmmaker Kevin May. His film, It’s Raining, So What, will open the festival. It’s the story of former Apple Valley resident Joe Stone, who set his sights on a seemingly impossible goal of becoming the first wheelchair-using quadriplegic to complete a full Ironman triathlon.

Stone and girlfriend Amy Rosendahl headed west to Missoula, Mont. several years ago, where life took a tragic turn for the couple. A speed-flying accident left Stone in a coma for weeks. His injuries included a broken neck. Following a long road of rehabilitation as well as personal discovery, Stone began setting increasingly bigger goals.

“We realized that through the making of this film, we were sharing a universal message: Happiness and true life fulfillment is possible if we can break through our own perceived limitations through intentional thinking and positive actions,” said May.

“I wasn’t expecting this film-making process to touch me so deeply,” said Stone. “It has been an adventure, filled with passion and personal drive. I’m excited and thrilled that we’ll soon be sharing this with the Minneapolis/St. Paul community.”

Photo courtesy of Partners in Policymaking

Photo courtesy of Partners in Policymaking

Stone believes this film will change perceptions. “I hope that it motivates anyone dealing with struggles or challenges in their life, whether or not they have a physical disability. I also want to change how people view those of us with disabilities so that they begin to see us as productive members of society.”

“When Joe struggles, that means he’s on the edge of a breakthrough,” said May. “That has been a guiding principle for him that I now apply to my own life. This film is about how we deal with struggles. When you see someone with a disability succeed, it magnifies what is possible in your own life. I realize that if I don’t give up, the next time I’m hit with something, I’ll know how to deal with it.”

Celebrities will be a part of the festival, for question and answer periods before and after film screenings. Stone will be on hand, as will Josh LaRue, author, poet and philosopher. LaRue’s story, My Last Breath, will be shown twice during the festival. Fans can also meet Steve Wampler, from the film Wampler’s Ascent. Wampler is known for scaling El Capitan.

Another fan favorite is actor and activist Danny Woodburn. Woodburn, who has acted in many movies, was a regular character on the television show Seinfeld. He will teach an acting improve class at MacPhail on Saturday, June 13 and will emcee the ReelAbilities closing night and Taste of Art fundraiser.
The Real Story, the Access Press documentary on disability and the news media, will be one of many films shown. It will be shown at noon, Friday, June 12 at the Union Depot in St. Paul. Copies of the DVD will be available for purchase.

The festival is expected to attract more than 3,000 people over four days. “These highly entertaining films give our community a reason to come together. We will celebrate and educate. When you reach people through the arts, it helps to raise awareness and break stereotypes,” said Reed. “Our mission is to create partnerships between people with disabilities and our community.”

Reed said that while people are being entertained, films will also increase their comfort level about interacting with people who have a disability. “We don’t see many persons with disabilities in film or on
TV. As a result, most of us have experienced fear of interacting with the disabled appropriately. How do I approach someone who has cerebral palsy? Or a person who is blind or deaf? How do I shake a veteran’s hand if they have a prosthetic arm? These powerful stories will promote better understanding and change lives for the better.”

Founded in 2007, the ReelAbilities Film Festival is held annually in more than a dozen major U.S. cities. The first Minneapolis-St. Paul festival was organized and hosted by PRI in 2013 at multiple venues. See a short film highlighting the first Twin Cities festival here.

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