ReelAbilities Film Festival celebrates people living with disabilities

Film festivals in the Los Angeles community happen all the time. But there's nothing quite like the ReelAbilities Film Festival.

The ReelAbilities Film Festival is dedicated to letting us all know about the lives, the stories and the artistic expressions of people with disabilities.

The recent film, "The Peanut Butter Falcon," starring Shia LeBeouf and Zack Gottsagen, an actor with Down syndrome, is the opener for the three-day cinematic celebration. The festival's co-director, Michael Dougherty, and actor Danny Woodburn, are excited to have a space for some open dialogue about people with disabilities working in show business.

Dougherty, who lives with spina bifida, says movies probably saved his life.

"And they gave me a window into a world that was beyond hospitals," he said. "And beyond the playground where I was getting bullied and it made me think and hope that there was something for me outside of where I grew up."

In all, there are 15 shorts, features and documentaries in the festival dealing with topics including deafness, suicide, physical and intellectual disabilities.

"We hope to get to a place where we're showing people with disabilities simply living lives," Doughtery said. One of the reasons for the festival is "to demonstrate that we can tell our own stories."

Actor and disability advocate Woodburn is excited for what's ahead.

"I encourage everybody to come to a festival like this because it will open your eyes. It will change the way you think about the world at large," Woodburn said.

The movies playing at ReelAbilities all encompass the festival's tagline: "Disability is diversity." For Woodburn, those words ring true.

"It's important to tell these stories and to tell them authentically," he said. Woodburn also took to statistics to remind us of the past. "If we look at The Academy Awards, 61 nominees over the history of The Academy Awards have been for actors who have played characters that have disability. Twenty-seven of those actors are winners. Two are actually people with disability--Harold Russell and Marlee Matlin," Woodburn said.

The ReelAbilities Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday at the AMC Theatres at Universal CityWalk.

For more information, go to www.reelabilities.org/losangeles.
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