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Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager
Aug 31, 2022
Sunday, September 18 at 1 PM, the Wex launches an extended partnership with Art Possible Ohio to present films selections for ReelAbilities Film Festival Columbus. It begins with screenings of the 2022 documentary I Didn't See You There (pictured above) with a talkback with filmmaker Reid Davenport. The program for the day includes an audio-described version of the film at 3 PM and Audio Cafe, which invites members of the blind community and the broader community to engage with art making and the exhibitions in our galleries between the two screenings.
Art Possible Ohio's Director of Programs, Megan Fitze, has been an essential collaborator in these efforts. Below, Fitze talks about the organization's mission, her work with Wex staff, and what she's excited to share with audiences in the weeks ahead.
For those unfamiliar, what it is Art Possible Ohio?
Art Possible Ohio is a statewide service organization for arts and disability. We serve the entire State of Ohio. And what we do, through a variety of programs, is provide support for artists with disabilities through cultural opportunities, professional development workshops, a statewide exhibition featuring artists with disabilities that travels around Ohio, and sometimes some one-off programs. We also have a series called Possibility Talks that features Ohio artists with disabilities, and they talk about various topics of interest to them or that they feel might be of interest to other artists.
We also work with cultural organizations across the state providing professional development trainings to make their spaces, their policies, their programs—front of house, back of house—more accessible to all individuals. Then we have our ReelAbilities program that we are offering in conjunction with the Wexner Center this fall.
One additional program is called Adaptation, Integration, and the Arts, and that's a K through 12 program. We bring teaching artists into schools across the state to integrated classrooms, which means students with disabilities are with typical students doing art-based curriculum that's in alignment with the school's standards and curriculum, and whatever kind of values they're focusing on that year. And then we do advocacy for artists with disabilities and things like that as well.
How large of an organization is Art Possible Ohio?
We are two people. There's an executive director and there's me. But we do work with teaching artists from across Ohio, so we have a handful that we work with regularly for our schools program, like eight to 10. And then we bring in teaching artists for some of our virtual programs and things like that. And then we have an intern who's now become a contract staff person for the first time this year for our ReelAbilities festival, which is really great.
That's amazing. And you recently went through a name change, correct?
We did, yeah. We were VSA Ohio. People recognize that name still to this day, which is a program of the Kennedy Center. We still have a great relationship with the Kennedy Center and their VSA program, but we have rebranded. And we thought VSA is an antiquated name. Nobody knew what it stood for anymore and what it did stand for is very antiquated, so it was time for a rebrand and a refresh.
How long has this program been operating in Ohio?
Since 1986. And we've been Art Possible Ohio, it'll be three years, I believe, in January. The pandemic put a pause on our rebrand. We were going to have this big party and instead it just happened organically. That's OK, too.
Talk to me about ReelAbilities: How it's worked in your program and how long you've been presenting it.
ReelAbilities has been around for 15 years now. The way ReelAbilities works is that there's an ReelAbilities International, which is in New York City. They vet all the films, they do the call for films and set the standards for the films, and then release all the films in their festival, which happens in March or April every year.
And then there are satellite festivals around the United States. There's also one in Mexico City and one in Toronto, that pool from their roster of films, and we have our own city-based festival. When I first started with ReelAbilities, we used to screen most of our films at the Gateway. And then pretty quickly we went to virtual and that was thanks to ReelAbilities New York. They were the ones who figured out how to put it online so quickly and then support us as we were learning how to offer those things online.
That was really great lesson for us because we had such success with that. We realized how important it was for us at Art Possible to stay virtual for many of our programs because our numbers just punched up, and because so many people, I think, especially individuals with disabilities, were really scared to leave their homes. Some people are home bound, and some people are immunocompromised and still can't leave their homes. Or it's mobility issues, or transportation issues, all these issues that are very rooted in ableist culture and ableist society. So having that virtual option was a huge deal.
Even though we’re transiting back to in-person [screenings in] the fall, it's been a great lesson in how we can apply virtual opportunities for some of our other programs. Plus we are statewide for many of our programs, so offering virtual opportunities means anybody in the state can participate. They don't need to travel to get to us and it's cheaper.
I was fortunate to be at your in-person screening at The Vanderelli Room in August. One of the things that I really appreciate about the film that was selected, Maricarmen, is that even in nonfiction filmmaking, there's such a push to have stories fit into a traditional three-act structure, and there was no need for that. The filmmaker stayed true to this woman's story. Watching her uncertainty about what was ahead felt more honest. I thought, well, this is a perfect partnership for the Wex, where we want to challenge those traditional modes of storytelling. It just made me wonder, what are we in for? What can we look forward to?
The mission of ReelAbilities is to celebrate and highlight artists, directors, and writers with disabilities. But I always think of it as really just normalizing disability in the film industry and pushing away those ideas and tropes, that idea of inspiration porn, where somebody with a disability is inspiring to you because they do something despite their disability.
In fact, you should just be inspired by an individual or a story like you would be inspired by anybody's individual story or mission. Not because they have a disability, but because of something else you find in the film or something about that person that is attractive to you. Also, the idea that a disability must be cured; there’s somebody with a disability and they find a magic medicine that saves them, or they go through some therapy and they overcome the disability.
We really want to stay away from stories like that because disabilities are not things that necessarily need to be solved. And then also the idea that a movie featuring somebody with a disability has to be about a disability. It can just actually be about whatever that storyline is, whether it's a documentary or a narrative film.
So those are all kinds of the messages we want to stay away from, especially when we're selecting our films. Because even within the roster of films, sometimes those storylines just creep in there because they're just so ingrained in how movies are made and what audiences expect.
There are of course films that will focus on disability because a lot of the filmmakers have disabilities and that's what they want to put out into the world. But there's an animated film festival we're really excited about and all those films are geared towards children, which is really fun. There are several documentaries, which is just typical for this festival because it's a lot of new filmmakers and new filmmakers start out making documentaries a lot of the time. But they're all just incredible stories that I think people will really enjoy and they'll leave the theater with something to think about.
There's an incredible one [called imperfect] about a theater in Denver specifically for artists and actors with disabilities and they put on the play Chicago. It’s just a really fun film. And our first film, we're working with Chris [Stults, associate Film/Video curator] to bring in, called I Didn't See You There by the filmmaker Reid Davenport. He just won a major award at Sundance. We're really excited about that film and his perspective, and what he wants to share with the world. And he's doing a talkback with us too. We could not have brought in that film nor Reid without the Wexner partnership. And I think it's going to make a really great kickoff to the whole festival.
imperfect, image courtesy of the filmmakers
Tell me more about the Audio Cafe event.
This was really a Wexner project, [Accessibility Manager Helyn Marshall’s] brainchild.. We've learned from talking to individuals in the disability community about arts spaces, cultural spaces, especially what the Deaf community is telling us. And the blind community is telling us is that they just want a space to feel welcome in these cultural institutions. They don't always need to have an ASL tour. They don't always need to have an audio descriptive tour. That's really great, but really they just want to have a sense of community and a place of belonging.
That's where I think this idea was birthed from Helyn. She really wanted to have some sort of creative workshop where individuals with hearing loss or individuals who are blind could come in and make something, share some food, break some bread, maybe do a little fun tour of the Wex. And then, if they want, engage in a film after that. So Audio Cafe is for anybody who wants to join, but specifically for the blind community to come in and do just that.
We are bringing in Elizabeth Sammons, an incredible writer, workshop leader, and educator. She is legally blind herself and she is going to join whoever wants to engage with the Audio Cafe on a short visual-described tour of one of the galleries in the Wex, then they're going to convene back at the Heirloom Cafe.
Elizabeth's going to lead a reflective workshop, and then they're going to have some cookies, tea, and coffee and chat and hang out. After that is over, we will have the director’s talkback with Reid if anybody wants to go to that. And then we're going to have an open audio-described screening of the film, so they can stay and engage in that as well.
We're very excited. And we're going to have an event called Deaf Cafe, which is going to come at the end of the festival, which will be a similar format, although for the Deaf community rather than the blind community.
Anything else you'd like to add?
For our second film, we have a documentary on mental health that specifically focuses on addiction. We're actually going to be showing a short film before made by students, they're OSU alumni. The subject is suicide, but it's really about the mental health support system at OSU. We're very excited about that. The filmmakers are going to come and talk, and I'm excited to have someone directly from the campus community be involved in the ReelAbilities Festival.
Top of page: I Didn't See You There, image courtesy of The Film Collaborative