Another Year of Judging Films By and About People with Disabilities!

Another Year of Judging Films By and About People with Disabilities!

Five years ago, I was asked by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) to be a judge for the documentary short category of their annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival. This international film festival is unique for a number of reasons, first and foremost because all films submitted and screened either feature characters or real people with disabilities, or explore disability issues, and in keeping with that mission, many of the films include people with disabilities in their cast and crew. From the judging perspective, what sets the festival apart is its insistence to judge each film almost entirely on how well it presents a fresh or creative look at the experience of living with a disability; at times this means that a film with a high production value may not clinch first place if it relies heavily on tired disability stereotypes. As someone with a background in the film industry, this placed me in a unique position, one that has taught me a great deal over the past five years.

What I have learned is there are many ways to approach the criteria given me and just as many viewpoints. It is up to us as judges to adhere to that criteria but also our responsibility to judge the art of the storytelling and remember that “art takes risks.” For Cinema Touching Disability, a memorable work is one that simultaneously embodies artistry, technical competence, and content that advances disability culture. Whereas some competitions want to encourage and empower emerging filmmakers to generate innovative films, Cinema Touching Disability seeks films at the cutting edge of social, cultural, and personal perceptions about experiences with disability. These films encapsulate just about everything: romance, relationships with peers or animals, nature, adventure, or just everyday experiences; some may contain a sense of humor, drama, or even action and suspense.

When viewing films outside of this competition, I find myself asking if we should judge films solely on their technical qualities (sound, editing, cinematography, etc.), or should we also allow for the effort put into accurately portraying or including underrepresented communities, like people with disabilities? The story may not be well-developed, and some of these filmmakers may not have much experience, but don’t all filmmakers start out that way – with no experience, but just an idea? That is not to say the quality of the execution of their ideas is not important, as that is often what engages the audience in the first place, but film technique is certainly not all that matters.

The video below offers a more in-depth view of what the Cinema Touching Disability event means for the Austin community:

The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival is now in its 15th year here in Austin, Texas. Each year, the films get better, and we see more international submissions, which gives us a glimpse into how other countries view the filmmaking process and how different cultures perceive what folks with disabilities want to and can achieve. You can learn more about the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival and find updates for future events here. The 2018 festival will be held at the Alamo Drafthouse Village in Austin October 19-20. See you there!

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