Thursday, May 20, 2010

Superfest 2010 celebrates disability film June 4-5

From the Superfest website:

When a boy’s fluttering eyelashes are finally recognized as communication, 16 years of silent isolation end and a soulful poet’s life takes flight in Like A Butterfly (Poland, Best of Festival), a lyrical, intimate portrait that’s a testament to the profound resilience of the human spirit; the adrenalin rush as the athlete pushes the limits, the awesome beauty of the snowy landscapes, the thrill as the snowboarder soars higher, the tricks, defying gravity, and then, Wipe Out (Canada, Merit) -- three compelling stories about life after your head hits the icy hard-pack; unflinching and raw, at times unhinged, The Last American Freak Show (UK, Merit) turns a voyeuristic lens on a low-rent troupe of self-defined freaks and outsiders as they hit the road in a revival of a marginalized “art form” that many believe should have been “bagged and tagged” long ago.

These are just three of thirteen remarkable award winning-films, a taste of what’s in store at the 30th Superfest International Disability Film Festival, a community event celebrating disability culture June 4 & 5 in downtown Berkeley at the Gaia Art Center, 2120 Allston Way. The accessible and affordable event includes Friday and Saturday afternoon screenings of the 13 award-winning films, a lively “Q & A” with attending filmmakers, a meet and greet the film-makers reception and an award ceremony with live entertainment. The festival is presented by Culture!Disability!Talent! (CDT), a grass-roots non-profit dedicated to promoting quality, authentic films that represent the rich diversity of the world’s disability community.

Top Honors
The Best of Festival and Excellence Awards go to three films representing the power, passion, craft and art of the documentary. Taking us to cultures as disparate as Poland, China, and California, these superb films remind us that there are no language barriers or national boundaries in our universal need to be heard, recognized, understood, accepted, and yes, loved and embraced as a valued member of the human family.

Best of Festival Award
Without gimmicks or artifice, Polish filmmaker Ewa Pieta delivers an intricate portrait, charged with brilliant moments of emotional intensity. Like a Butterfly tells the story of Przemek, a 23 year-old poet who spent his first 16 years of life trying frantically to communicate, get someone, anyone, to notice him. When an institution worker finally recognizes his persistent tapping and blinking as dammed up intelligence, his desperate isolation comes to an end. With training on a communication system, Przemek dives passionately into his longed for world of words, eventually earning national recognition for his poetry.

Excellence & Spirit Awards
Rhianon Guiterrez’s When I’m Not Alone is as direct and down to earth as Sam Durbin, the extraordinary ordinary man at its center. Sam’s life, like this story, is all about possibilities. He heads the consumer advisory committee for California’s Department of Developmental Services and is a published author, achievements he never imagined while institutionalized or homeless. This powerful gem, which chronicles Sam’s efforts to reclaim his life with the help of Integrity House, a clubhouse to help people with disabilities become self-advocates, also earned the Spirit Award, given to an outstanding work by a filmmaker with a disability.

In China, families with autistic children face hostility, discrimination, and financial ruin. Services don’t exist. One small school, Stars and Rain, on the outskirts of Beijing, offers a ray of hope. Parents travel thousands of miles with their 5 year-olds to join this intensive 11-week residential course in skills and behavior, aimed at acceptance of the child by public schools. British director, Rob Aspey, skillfully draws us into how hard it is for the Children of the Stars to communicate their needs or show affection. We experience frustration, glimmers of hope, the joy of a father hearing “I love you” for the first time from his son, and our hearts travel with them as they leave and head home to an uncertain future.

The P.K. Walker Award
Named for experimental artist, Pamela Walker, a pioneer in the Berkeley disability arts scene, this award is given to a film that pushes artistic boundaries, that surprises us, that demonstrates innovation in expressing disability experience. With White Sound, Australian filmmaker Sarah Tracton, gives us a totally fresh take on what it means to hear, to listen, when she uses her own hearing loss as catalyst to visually explore the texture of sound.

Awards for Achievement and Merit
Two of the three Achievement Award winners provide windows into the experiences of people restarting their lives somewhere new. Miya of the Quiet Strength was life long activist Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, who first drew national attention as the sole survivor of a campus mass shooting before moving from Iowa to Berkeley to continue her fight for human and civil rights out of the spotlight glare. Filmmaker Daniel Julien’s loving tribute captures the essence of this beloved and respected community worker and the family who supported her efforts. In Beyond Borders, children and adults from Iraq, Uzbekistan and Morocco immigrate to Belgium seeking much needed services or to escape oppression and war in their homelands. Director Brecht Vanmeirhaeghe introduces us to a boy with Down syndrome and his family, a mother who is developing multiple sclerosis and a young blind man determined to run a marathon.

The third Achievement winner and two of the five Merit Award winners are films that focus on the power of art to represent, challenge, and transform ideas about disability, films that call into question the nature of artistic expression. Achievement winner, The Portrait of a Disabled Man, is a documentary about the discovery of an unusual 400 year-old Austrian painting. The man’s body is laid out, as if for a medical examination, but his head is turned to eye the viewer and challenge our gaze. Filmmakers Volker Schoenwiese and Bernd Thomas explore views by disability scholars, activists, and artists on the history and significance of the painting.

Two Merit Award winners also delve into the significance of the gaze that people with visible disabilities are subjected to in public, and how disabled artists can choose to refashion it into performance. Richard Butchkins takes us on a long and winding road trip with The Last American Freak Show, a rough, sometimes messy look at a troupe of unapologetic “freaks” who flaunt their differences and charge you to gaze. David Levitt Waxman takes us inside The Art of Movement with the Bay Area’s world renowned AXIS Dance Company. These dancers, with and without disabilities, know full well that the audience is at first absorbed by what they perceive as different and resist seeing their performance as art, so they raise the artistic bar and push the creative envelope until they astonish audiences with their innovative moves.

Challenging Assumptions
The three remaining Merit winners and the special award for outstanding emerging artist go to filmmakers for films that demonstrate a strong creative vision and powerful point of view. They are:

My Friend Claude driven by a bluesy sound track that serves as narrative, is Canadian Yves Langlois‘s unsentimental tribute to his close friend that captures his joie de vivre as he fulfils his bucket list;

Wipe Out is Lionel Goddard’s compelling, close-up of three young Canadians who were head injured through extreme snowboarding and are now involved in public education about safety measures;

Far From Home is Elissa Moon’s incisive look at life in Laguna Honda, and how a lawsuit against the country’s largest nursing home enabled some disabled residents to escape institutionalization into independent living in the community; and

Winner of Emerging Artist award Laurence Parent for Je me Souviens: Excluded from the Montreal Subway Since 1966, her passionate and poetic expose of a long, so far futile battle for accessibility of the Montreal subway.