Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

11th annual ReelAbilities Film Festival celebrates 'shared human experience'

A man with prosthetic legs lays on the ground.
Film Pittsburgh
A still from "The Blake Leeper Story" featured this year at the ReelAbilities Film Festival.

Film Pittsburgh is presenting the 11th annual ReelAbilities Film Festival Thursday through Saturday at Highmark Theatre Downtown. The festival celebrates diversity by showcasing a panel of films featuring and created by individuals with disabilities. In addition to the in-person screenings over the weekend, a slate of films can be viewed virtually until Sept. 13.

Kathryn Spitz Cohan, the executive director of Film Pittsburgh, said the festival is significant because it spotlights people often excluded from mainstream Hollywood productions, and because it improves general audiences’ understanding of people with disabilities.

“It's really important in movies to see yourself on the screen,” Spitz Cohan said. “And so few people in Hollywood films have any kind of disability, or if they do, they are portrayed as a freak or a monster.”

Film Pittsburgh

One of the feature films, titled “Abled: The Blake Leeper Story,” follows the journey of Paralympic runner Blake Leeper as he aspires to compete in the Olympics. Another film, “OKAY! (The ASD Band Film),” tells the story of a band whose members are on the autism spectrum as they prepare for their first public performance.

“Another thing that these films do is it really shows how much we have in common,” Spitz Cohan added. “What we share, all the things that we care about… people want love and family and relationships and good jobs — this really focuses on that human element.”

All in-person films will feature accessibility options such as subtitles and audio description.

Attendees will also be able to view an art exhibit featuring work created by people with disabilities

On Saturday, Film Pittsburgh will present the fifth annual Richard Meritzer Award to Mary Anderson Hartley, the executive director of the Parent Education & Advocacy Leadership Center. This award honors its namesake, who worked as a disabilities coordinator in Pittsburgh.