ReelAbilities Film Festival Brings Experiences of the Differently Abled to the Screen

reelabilitiesStill from "Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing."

For the past week, theaters and event spaces throughout Greater Boston have been sharing oft-overlooked on-screen perspectives thanks to the 2017 ReelAbilities Film Festival.

Hoping to highlight diverse voices from the differently abled, organizers debuted ReelAbilities in New York City in 2007. The festival has grown over the last decade, and now, many major cities—from Pittsburgh to Portland to Toronto—host their own. At a little over a week long, Boston’s is one of the largest, according to festival director Mara Bresnahan.

Bresnahan says that her goal in curating each year’s event is to find films that represent a broad range of experiences and, in doing so, “educate and change perceptions around disabilities.”

“We’re really trying to get people who are not connected to disabilities out to these films,” she adds. “Films about people with disabilities are becoming part of the mainstream now.”

Her 2017 selections include Asperger’s Are Us, a profile of a comedy troupe composed of four friends on the autism spectrum that was recently picked up by Netflix, and Life, Animated, a Sundance winner and Oscar nominee about a young man who was unable to speak until he and his family realized he could communicate through Disney’s animated films. “These are films that many, many people are getting exposed to … it’s a part of the larger conversation,” Bresnahan adds.

That includes Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing, which will close out this year’s ReelAbilities Film Festival on Thursday, April 5 at the Somerville Theatre. “Not the Mark Wahlberg film,” Bresnahan quickly clarifies—this documentary from HBO and the Boston Globe takes a look at the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, following four families as they recover from the physical and emotional trauma of that day. “They really focus on the rehabilitation part,” Bresnahan says. “It doesn’t focus so much on the bombing itself, but how it affected these particular people. It’s a beautiful film.”

But Bresnahan says her personal favorite film at this year’s ReelAbilities Film Festival is Rachel Is, which will screen for free at the Cambridge Public Library on April 4 at 6:30 p.m. Rachel Is tells the story of a 22-year-old woman who’s about to graduate from high school and thus age out of the school care system, losing a network of support she and her family have come to rely on. Shot by her sister, the movie follows the family as they navigate what Bresnahan says is a huge topic in the disability community. “A lot of families, they had this routine for their child, and now they had access to these services, and then they fall off dramatically,” she explains. “It’s a really honest portrait of what a lot of people experience.”

You can find additional information on the ReelAbilities Film Festival at Discounted, $5 tickets to the screening of Marathon area available using the code GLOBEDOCS1.