SALT LAKE CITY — Melissa Helquist has been working to bring the ReelAbilities Film Festival to the Salt Lake area for the past 12 years. She said it is a chance for the community to explore some of the stories she believes “don’t often get told.”
ReelAbilities will be presented by the Salt Lake Community College Community Writing Center from May 18-21 at the Salt Lake City Main Library, with a screening as part of the Park City Film Series on May 19 at the Jim Santy Auditorium. The free film festival is dedicated to displaying disabilities as sources of innovation and inspiration through film, according to a press release.
“It is exciting to see disability talked about as something creative, as something compelling, as something interesting,” said Helquist, who is the associate director of the SLCC Community Writing Center and an associate professor of English at SLCC.
The ReelAbilities Film Festival began in 2007 and was originally hosted in Manhattan. Sara Bitter, the ReelAbilities national field director, said the festival prides itself in presenting award-winning films by and about people with disabilities.
Since 2012, the festival has added venues in multiple cities. The festival visits 13 cities throughout the U.S. and one in Canada, and Bitter said the organization is working to add more venues.
Helquist said grants from SLCC made hosting ReelAbilities in Salt Lake City a reality.
“Disability is a really common part of life that is often not talked about,” Helquist said. “ReelAbilities does a great job of talking about disability in everyday life as a part of life experience, rather than saying that it’s scary or should be secret. It just kind of shows disabilities as a part of people’s complex lives.”
According to a 2012 U.S. Census news release, nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. have a disability.
“Most of us at one time in our lives will have a disability, either temporary because of an accident or because of age,” Helquist said. “It’s a part of life that affects everyone in one way or another.”
Helquist said this was a conversation she wanted to bring to the Salt Lake area. Bitter said ReelAbilities is happy to partner with the SLCC Community Writing Center to add to the work it is already doing for the disabled.
“We always want partners who have a vision for how they want to run a festival that’s unique to their community, and I felt like Salt Lake City was just perfect for that,” Bitter said.
The films vary in style and theme and cover a range of topics, from post-traumatic stress disorder to Down syndrome, she said.
“Each year, the films are getting better and better. They’re getting more diverse and they’re covering people’s stories,” Bitter said. “It’s a really exciting time.”
The festival will include multiple feature films, including "No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie," "Getting Up: The Tempt One Story," "Do You Dream in Colour?" and "Deaf Jam." Several short films will also be shown, including a collection curated by VideoWest on May 18, which includes films "from local filmmakers featuring a glimpse of diverse, creative and compassionate lives."
“It’s the chance to see some great films,” Helquist said. “It’s also a chance to get a perspective on life that we don’t often see.”
According to the event website, all screenings will be open captioned or subtitled, and all venues are wheelchair accessible. Many films will also include audio description. American Sign Language interpretation, computer-aided realtime translation and information in Braille are available upon advanced request. Visit saltlakecity.reelabilities.org/films-and-events for details.
The festival also offers post-screening discussions to complement the films and “celebrate the diversity of our shared human experiences,” according to the press release.
Although each city chooses from the same pool of movies provided by ReelAbilities, Bitter said every festival is unique because each city brings its “own flair and style” to the festival.
Helquist believes people in the Salt Lake area will be empathetic to the films, regardless of whether they have a personal connection to a disability.
“I think Salt Lake is embracing of diversity and embracing of art and culture,” Helquist said.
Bitter said, in her experience, people generally leave the festival feeling positive and that they have learned something.
Helquist said she hopes the festival will bring the community together and foster conversations that will impact all who attend.
“We really try to share stories that anyone from anywhere can relate to,” Bitter said.
If you go ...
What: ReelAbilities Film Festival
When: May 18-21, times vary
Where: May 18 and 20-21, Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City; May 19, Jim Santy Auditorium, 1255 Park Ave., Park City
How much: Free