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Film festival challenges the definition of disability

January 19, 2010

A new, groundbreaking film festival at Madcap Theaters in Tempe challenges the perception that people with disabilities are different by daring to ask the question: "Different from What?"

The three-day film festival, scheduled to take place Jan. 29-31, is presented by the Equity Alliance at ASU and a group of doctoral students in ASU's special education program and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering (AME). The goal of the festival is to prompt participants to think critically about their perceptions of people with disabilities and how portrayals of disability in film influence these perceptions.

“We see the Different from What? Film Festival as a way to engage the community in conversations about how we use difference to push away people who are different from ourselves,” said Elizabeth Kozleski, ASU professor and expert in systems change and inclusive education with the Mary Lou Fulton Institute and Graduate School of Education.

“We designed this event to touch hearts and minds and to build more inclusive communities where employment, leisure and friendships transcend stereotypes,” she said. Kozleski also is the principal investigator of the Equity Alliance, which promotes educational equity, access, participation and positive outcomes for all students and serves as the Equity Assistance Center for Arizona, California and Nevada.

Exploring the topics of disability and difference through film made sense for the students, faculty and staff who created the festival, according to Kathleen King Thorius, co-director of technical assistance and professional learning for the Equity Alliance.

“We’re all heavily involved in the arts, so it’s nice to use the medium of film to explore issues that traditionally have been explored academically,” King Thorius said. “We’re hoping to take a look at the way disability is represented in our selection of films through conversations with experts in special education, disability studies, visual anthropology and film.”

Different from What? is sponsored by seed grants from the Fulton Institute and the Performing Arts Venture Experience (p.a.v.e.), an arts entrepreneurship program of the ASU School of Theater Arts. King Thorius said a jury of community members and scholars selected the films based on the complexity of their view of disability or difference through the experiences of the filmmaker and characters.   

Interactive Twitter dialogue will take place throughout the festival with commentary on the social, cultural, historical, ideological and political constructs of disability.  A Friday evening reception and panel discussion, with “Shooting Beauty” director George Kachadorian and experts in disability and equity, is scheduled before the screening of the critically acclaimed film. “Shooting Beauty” is about an aspiring fashion photographer whose career takes a life-changing turn when she discovers true beauty at a center for people living with significant disabilities. By inventing cameras accessible to adults with disabilities, she gives them a voice to explain their daily experiences.

Another expert panel will discuss “Negotiating the Boundaries of Culturally Embedded Views of Difference in Film” at noon, Saturday, Jan. 30. 

Among the festival’s films is the documentary “Including Samuel” – an entertaining film about a boy with cerebral palsy whose family chronicles four years of involving Samuel in every aspect of their daily life, including general education classrooms. “Bowling Blind” is the upbeat true story of the Metropolitan Blind Bowlers in New York City who refuse to be limited by their blindness. “The Miracle,” a fictional story of a woman who is a little person, is about daring to dream, trying to fit in against vast odds and redefining the meaning of different.

Madcap Theaters is located at 730 S. Mill Ave., in Tempe. Individual show tickets cost $10. A Friday night pass, including the director’s panel discussion, opening night reception and admission to the festival’s feature film from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. “Shooting Beauty” is $20. Early birds can go online before Jan. 29 to purchase a pass for all festival films and events for $25.

Films will be shown all day Saturday from 10 a.m. to  9:45 p.m. Sunday's event begins at 10:15 a.m. with awards and a final social from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. The winning film will be screened at 4:15 p.m. For a full schedule of films and times, and information on how to buy tickets in advance, visit


Flim Festival Schedule

M. Jenea Sanchez, director
Student film visualizes “amputation” within the U.S.-Mexico border.

A Round Recalled
Juan Caros Bayardo, director*
During a sparring match, a boxer remembers his childhood accident and, in vivid color, the world of sight.

Autistic-like: Graham’s Story
Erik Linthorst, director
A couple struggles to find the right doctors, treatment and words to describe their special son.

Bowling Blind
Marc Cantone, director**
The struggles, triumphs and misadventures of the Metropolitan Blind Bowlers league in New York City.

The Best Serac Adventure Film School
Mount Kilimanjaro 2007

Blind Skier’s Edge
Erik Weihenmayer, director
An innovative skiing technique helps ski instructors and blinded veterans get back on the slopes.

Dear Wheelchair Maker
Gene Rodgers, director**
A quadriplegic who participates in extreme sports shows a wheelchair maker the need for lighter-weight, stronger and cool wheelchairs.

Far from Home
Elissa Moon, director**
Three individuals struggle for their independence, the choice not to be institutionalized and control over their own lives.

Farther than the Eye Can See
Michael Brown, director
A documentary about blind climber Erik Weihenmayer’s historic ascent and other “firsts” on Mount Everest.

Elizabeth Spear, director*
This story of an orphaned, brain-injured young man is more about how the people who encounter him understand him – or don’t.

Hearing Images
Matt Lauterback, director**
An audio describer, a “touch-tour” guide for the blind and a visually impaired theater-goer make the performing arts verbal and tactile for those who cannot see.

I Zombi
Jeremy Newman, director
A burn victim in Appalachia finds brotherhood with the cable access television Horror Host Underground, immersed in a costumed world of self-acceptance and inclusion.

Invisible Girlfriend
David Redmon/Ashley Sabin, directors
A man searches for his invisible girlfriend on a 400-mile, Oz-like journey on his big, red bike through rural Louisiana.

Including Samuel
Dan Habib, director
A photojournalist chronicles his family's efforts to include their son with cerebral palsy in every facet of their lives.

Lest We Forget: Silent Voices
Mark Richard Lyons, director
This powerful first-person story documents the life-long impact of institutionalization of people with developmental disabilities.

The Miracle
Jeffrey Jon Smith, writer/director
A film about daring to dream, trying to fit in against vast odds, redefining the meaning of 'different' and disabling the word 'disability.' 

Mountains Without Barriers
Michael Brown, director
Three mountain climbers participate in the No Barriers Festival: Two are blind and the third is a double-leg amputee. These men demonstrate how spirit and technology can improve quality of life.

Damon Stea, producer/director
Three photographers have one thing in common: They are blind. Each has a vision and style unique to their experience.

Charlotte Glynn, producer/director
A sister sees her mentally retarded sibling in a new way through the lens of a camera and becomes her best advocate.

Charlotte Glynn, producer/director
A young boy struggles to accept his diagnosis of ADHD and is forced to either cope with social pressure to be "normal" or remain true to himself.

There’s Still Hope for Dreams…A Phamaly Story
Mark Dissette, director
Actors with various disabilities, who would not otherwise have a chance to perform on stage, exhibit their talents with the theatrical group PHAMALY.

Water Burns Sun
Petra Kuppers, writer/director
A Butoh dance video sheds light on skin, water, ghosts and the meaning of "cripple."

Ways on Wheel
Ken Galloway, writer/director
A fast-moving outlaw artist on the British Columbia graffiti scene is paralyzed in a car accident. While many see graffiti as an unwanted presence in our cities, he now sees it as a reason to live.

When I’m Not Alone
Rhianon Gutierrez, director
Born female but raised as a male for 28 years, Sam Durbin was abused, never learned to read or write and drifted in and out of institutions. But he's turned his tragedy around and helps others in the process.

With Wings to Fly
Sharon T. Farrell, director
A young athlete paralyzed in an auto accident again finds the joy of competing in sports through the highly competitive sport of Pigeon Racing.

You Wanted to Make a Film?/  At ratzit laasot seret?
Gali Weintraub, director
This film portrays the complex relationship between the director, who was born disabled, and a polio victim and folk dancer son of disabled parents who decide to put on a dance performance. It highlights the filmmaker's struggle to be able to make this very film.

** denotes World Premiere
* denotes U.S. Premiere