The seventh annual 2018 ReelAbilities Boston Film Festival (March 21-29, 2018) has announced its official selections. Fourteen films have been chosen, including the romantic comedy Sanctuary, which won the Irish Critics Film of the Year Award, and Off the Rails, which tells the story of Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger’s syndrome and a passion for trains, who becomes known as “the transit bandit.”

This year’s festival also includes two special events: Opening Night Kickoff with Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 at Northeastern University, and a panel discussion with filmmaker Dan Habib at Lesley University.

ReelAbilities strives for the inclusion of all people and is dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities from a variety of communities.

“Film has the power to change a person’s perspective,” said Mara Bresnahan, festival director. “Each year, our goal is to include films in the ReelAbilities Film Festival that challenge our audience to think differently about the issues of awareness, inclusion, beliefs and biases about people with disabilities. More than ever before, this year’s festival achieves that goal, presenting incredible films that help celebrate the diversity of the shared human experience.”

The films selected for the 2018 Festival include:

Sanctuary—The opening night film is directed by Len Collin. A subversive piece of cinema about two young people, one with Down syndrome and one with severe epilepsy, simply trying to be together in a world doing everything to keep them apart. Discussion to follow with Len Collin and actor Kieran Coppinger.

UnrestShortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary 2017, this film tells the story of Jennifer Brea, an adventurous Harvard Ph.D. student who starts filming her journey in the wake of her diagnosis with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The film examines the stigma associated with an illness that affects millions and still has no cure. A Skype Q&A will follow with directory and film subject Jennifer Brea.

It’s Not Yet Dark—Directed by Frankie Fenton, this documentary tells the story of Simon Fitzmaurice, a 34-year-old Irish filmmaker who is diagnosed with ALS shortly after the premiere of his first short film at Sundance. Narrated by Colin Farrell, the film shares the journey of Fitzmaurice as he directs his first feature film using only his eyes. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the ALS TDI Institute.

Keep the Change—A romantic comedy about David, who is obsessed with being perceived as “normal,” and Sarah, a woman he meets at an autism support group who exudes positivity and confidence. Keep the Change’s cast includes actors on the autism spectrum and stars Tibor Feldman (The Sopranos) and Jessica Walter (Arrested Development). Director Rachel Israel was recognized as Best New Narrative Director at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, where Keep the Change won the award for Best Narrative Feature. Discussion to follow with actress Samantha Elisofon; Caitlin McInerney, program director of Adaptations; and Alex LoPinto, Adaptations and Ha Dereckh coordinator, JCC Manhattan Center for Special Needs.

STUMPED—Directed by Robin Berghaus, this documentary chronicles the life of Boston University professor Will Lautzenheiser after a life-threatening bacterial infection results in the amputation of his arms and legs. After a stint in stand-up comedy, Will becomes the third patient to undergo a double-arm transplant. A discussion will follow with Lautzenheiser; Marie Jose Benjamin, BORT/L, Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Marissa Osborne, MS, OTR/L, Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.


Thank You for Your Service—Directed by Tom Donahue, this documentary focuses on four Iraq War veterans struggling with PTSD. The film takes aim at the failed mental health policies of the U.S. military and the barriers to receiving proper and effective care and treatment. Discussion to follow with director Tom Donahue and film subject William Rodriguez.

SwimTeam—This documentary follows the Jersey Hammerheads, a truly unique competitive swim team comprising diverse teens on the autism spectrum. The film follows the extraordinary journey of the team and their families as they practice and compete at the regional and state levels. A discussion will follow with film subjects Mike, Maria and Michael McQuay.

New this year, the festival will feature the “ReelLove Short Film Program” at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. The program will feature six short films, including On Beat, directed by Cheng Zhang and Reid Davenport; Perfectly Normal, directed by Joris Debeij; Marina’s Ocean, directed by Cassio Pereira dos Santos; Brooklyn Love Tales, directed by Anthony Di Salvo; How We Met Laurel, directed by Arpita Aneja; and Beyond Silence: A Be Vocal Documentary, directed by Shaul Schwarz. A discussion will follow with film subject Lloyd Hale.

Off the RailsDirected by Adam Irving, the closing night documentary tells the story of Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger’s syndrome, whose love of transit has landed him in jail 32 times for impersonating New York City transit officials. Darius’ story embodies the criminal justice system’s failure to channel the passions of a mentally challenged man into a purposeful life. A discussion will follow with Sally Butler, lawyer for Darius McCollum, and Liz Loebman, forensic social worker.

The festival will kick off with a spotlight event on Wednesday, March 21, with Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 (LCA 2.0). LCA 2.0 media and disability professionals will present career-building activities, answer questions and provide advice on launching a career in film and media. LCA 2.0 is dedicated to promoting disability-inclusive and authentic portrayals in TV, film, news, theater and advertising by increasing employment of aspiring media professionals with disabilities in front of and behind the camera.

On Friday, March 23, the festival will host a panel discussion at Lesley University, led by filmmaker Dan Habib. The filmmaker will share clips and discuss his upcoming film Intelligent Lives. The film, with executive producers Chris Cooper and Marianne Leone, focuses on young adults with disabilities as they navigate high school, college and the workforce. Habib will moderate a discussion about education for students with disabilities with Elizabeth String Keefe, Ph.D., assistant professor, special education division, and film subjects Micah Fialka-Feldman of Syracuse University, Naieer Shaheed from Henderson High School in Dorchester, and Henderson High School principal Patricia Lampron.

The 2018 ReelAbilities Film Festival Boston is proudly presented by the Boston Jewish Film Festival and sponsored by the Ruderman Family Foundation.

“All too often, people with disabilities are excluded from the film industry and many times, these characters are represented inauthentically by actors who do not have disabilities,” said Sharon Shapiro, trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “We are proud to partner with ReelAbilities to bring films featuring people with disabilities to the mainstream public. Viewers will watch these stories and gain a new understanding of the value of inclusion.”

Additional sponsors include the J.E. & Z.B. Butler Foundation, Emerson College, General Electric, Nancy Lune Marks Family Foundation, PLAN of Massachusetts & Rhode Island, Rita J. & Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation, Peapod by Stop & Shop, Special Needs Financial Planning, Mass Cultural Council, Legacy Financial and Rockland Trust Bank.

The ReelAbilities Film Festival Boston will take place at 11 theaters in and around Boston, including Brattle Theatre, Cambridge Public Library, Coolidge Corner Theatre, The Cotting School, Emerson College Bright Family Screening Room, Lesley University, JCC Greater Boston Riemer-Goldstein Theater, Northeastern University, Museum of Science Boston, Showcase Cinema de Lux Revere and the Somerville Theatre.

Registration is recommended for all events. Find tickets and more information here.

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