On October 22-23 of this year, The Superfest International Disability Film Festival will appear in Berkeley and San Francisco, California, celebrating its 30th anniversary as the longest-running disability film festival in the world. The festival features 13 films about disability, with actors and characters with disabilities, and produced and directed by people with disabilities.
This year the festival received over 140 submissions from 18 countries. Every screened film has audio description (where a background narrator describes scenes happening on the screen), closed captioning, and ASL interpreters on-hand. The goal is to make the event fully accessible, and some features such as audio description can even enhance a film: according to the organizers, some filmmakers have enjoyed those versions so much that they now use them for every screening.
At the press release event this past Thursday, the organizers explained the many movies, short film and documentaries’ powerful storylines. “We want to take it to the next level, introducing new concepts and ideas,” said Emily Beitiks, the Superfest coordinator. “Intersectionality is really important to us. … The way that people with disabilities experience oppression with race, with gender, with sexuality — with whatever.”
This focus on intersectionality is a welcome change compared to what is shown in the mainstream: inaccurate and often-horrendous portrayals of disability such as that in Me Before You. “And unfortunately, it’s not just that they missed the mark, but that they are celebrated for missing the mark. So Superfest is just a great community event for celebrating cinema and what it can do, in contrast to what it typically does,” says Beitiks.
Many people are surprised when they hear of a blind organization co-hosting a film festival, but it’s actually a sign of the times. Bryan Bashin, the executive director of the Lighthouse Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, explained that hundreds of hours of films have become video-described in recent several years, and that plus other features are making films universally accessible. “It’s just one more issue of participation in the general culture. It’s possible to appreciate films non-visually the same way as it’s possible for me to live life non-visually. And that construct that says that participation in culture requires vision is something we are really shattering here.”
Superfest will be held on Saturday, October 22 at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, California, and on Sunday, October 23 at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The organizers chose those spaces because they are fully accessible for all members of the community as they feature movable seats and room for wheelchairs.
Tickets can be found online at www.superfestfilm.com.