Special Event! A Conversation about Chicago Docs and Disability

When Billy Broke His Head

Date: Friday, December 4 at 6:30pm – 8:00pm
Location: Access Living (115 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60654)

Meet the filmmakers behind four classic documentaries about disability, made right here in Chicago!

Join co-hosts Carrie Sandahl (of Bodies of Work) and Matt Lauterbach (of ReelAbilities Chicago) for a conversation with the creative minds behind the camera, as we screen excerpts from these fascinating films and discuss the issues.

“When Billy Broke His Head” (1995) – Director and Editor David Simpson will discuss how he teamed up with activist-writer Billy Golfus, and what he learned from making the film. Special 20th Anniversary event!

“Refrigerator Mothers” (2002) – Producer JJ Hanley (of the disability awareness organization, JJ’s List) will discuss her personal interest in exploring the traumatic legacy of blame, guilt and self-doubt experienced by parents of children with autism.

“Doin’ It: Sex, Disability & Videotape” (2007) – Playwright-activist Susan Nussbaum and filmmaker Salome Chasnoff will share behind-the-scenes insights into this creative collaboration with the Empowered FeFes, a support and action group for young women with disabilities.

“The Paper Mirror” (2012) – Local visual artist Riva Lehrer will discuss her collaboration with graphic novelist Alison Bechdel, which is featured in this short documentary, as well as her move from art focusing on disabilities into other subjects.

An ADA 25 Chicago presentation, in collaboration with Kartemquin Films.

EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. RSVP on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1639594476328708/

Must-See Performance by Arlene Malinowski!

IMG_2993-1Following Sunday’s 2:00pm screening of Lost and Sound, stay for a special performance by Arlene Malinowski!

Arlene is a playwright, actor and activist whose solo shows have been produced across the country and internationally. She will perform an excerpt from one of her shows, in true Coda style – one-half speaking, one-half ASL.

Arlene’s work looks at the intersection of disability culture and the world at large. Her newest solo show “A Little Bit Not Normal” chronicles her journey through depression and naming it, claiming it and standing to be counted. It is the cornerstone of her 5 year initiative to become part of the national conversation around the stigma and secrecy around mental illness.

Not to be missed!

Our Special Guest: Todd Bauer!

Headshot BW2Todd Bauer is a blind playwright, whose work has been performed in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and at the Kennedy Center. He was awarded an NEA Grant, received a fellowship from the Ragdale foundation, and was nominated for a 3Arts Artist Award. Todd has taught British and American drama at the Newberry Library in Chicago for over ten years, and is an ensemble member of Apothetae Company in New York.

We are incredibly excited to have Todd join us following Saturday’s 2:30pm screening of Six Points About Emma, a complex and dark story about a blind woman whose strongest desire is to be a mother. Todd will discuss the film’s screenplay, as well as his own experiences crafting stories for the stage.

Todd would like to express his thanks and love to his wife, Julia.

Meet Our “Sexy Saturday” Panelists!

This Saturday at 5pm at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema, we are screening Scarlet Road, about an Australian sex worker who specializes in an overlooked clientele – people with disabilities. Stay following the film for a discussion with our three amazing (and sexy) panelists!

Carrie Kaufman Headshot

CARRIE KAUFMAN (MODERATOR) – Carrie Kaufman is a queer, disabled woman. She works as the coordinator for a mentoring program for disabled young people, and is a collective member of Project Fierce Chicago, a group that is working to house LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness. She is also an artist, and believes that the arts, film included, are one of the most powerful ways to spread advocacy and empowerment. Carrie is passionate about creating access to services and resources, including access to sexual education and sexual health. As a member of both queer & disability communities, she is very interested in creating conversations around sex positivity and sexuality through acknowledging and breaking down barriers.

Sophia Chase Headshot

SOPHIA CHASE – Sophia Chase is a professional dominatrix and owner of Chicago Dungeon Rentals. She is also a sexuality educator with over 12 years of group and private instruction experience. She’s taught countless workshops at universities including Northwestern and University of Chicago and provided instruction on topics as varied as flirting, dominance for beginners and embodied sexuality for survivors of abuse. She was also featured on Showtime’s Sex with Sunny Megatron’s BDSM episode.


STEVIE HOPKINS – Stevie Hopkins is the co-founder of 3E Love, a social entrepreneurial experiment to change the perception of disability and the company behind the popular “Wheelchair Heart symbol.” His success with 3E Love has allowed him to travel the entire country as an educational and motivational speaker on an array of disability topics. Before 3E Love, Stevie graduated from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with two business degrees and held jobs in the financial and music industries. When not working, you can find Stevie exploring new sushi restaurants or at a concert.

Announcing Tonight’s Panelists!

We are tremendously proud and excited to announce tonight’s panelists, following the 7pm screening of the eye-opening film Wretches & Jabberers, playing at Chicago Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater. Learn more about our esteemed guests below!


Moderator: Charles Torpe
Charles has worked in human services since 1993. He’s been a trainer and facilitator in the disability field, and worked with youth and adults with autism. He’s moderated disability film panels and MC’d for local, county, and statewide events. He founded “The Creative Monster Within” and “Creative Artists in Service Together” (C.A.S.T.) to explore the connections between the arts and recovery. As a musician he’s performed at: The Chicago Blues Festival, The Harris Theater, Assembly Hall (Thompson Center), Soldier Field, and the Lucas Oil Stadium.

Panelist: JJ Hanley
JJ Hanley was named Associate Director of Ventures for the Chicago-area disability-service organization, Search, Inc. in 2013, where she has launched No Boundaries – Train for Work, Train for Life -a first-of-its-kind workplace training program for adults with disabilities – and where she directs a new employment services program for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

She is Founder and Director of jjslist.com, an on-line disability awareness resource for businesses and consumers that reaches 35,000 monthly fans. Under her direction, the jjslist.com integrated team of professionals, with and without disabilities, consults with businesses to help them provide disability-aware customer service and employment.

JJ also started the Disability Awareness Players who, since 2009, have trained more than 3000 staff of businesses and organizations in how to interact confidently and comfortably with customers, employees and potential hires who have disabilities. Training clients include Siemens Corporation, Northern Trust, Whole Foods, the Brookfield Zoo, the Harris Theater, and soon the Shedd Aquarium and Baxter Healthcare.

JJ started jjslist.com after producing the multiple award-winning PBS documentary Refrigerator Mothers, a film that was inspired by her experience of being blamed for her then 3-year-old son’s autistic behaviors.

Panelist: Dunham Leiner
Dunham Leiner grew up and still resides in the Chicago area. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Northeastern Illinois University and previous work experience involving the use of computer software. He currently serves as a ComEd Energy Force Ambassador and is working with Search, Inc. to find employment.

Panelist: Jon Montgomery
Jon Montgomery is a stay at home dad who home schools his autistic son, AJ. He is an ardent anti-behavioralist, and the subject of a new documentary called Getting to First Grade, which chronicles his family’s discovery of strategies on the vanguard of therapy for children with developmental disabilities.

We look forward to a stimulating conversation! See you tonight, and we hope you enjoy the program.

Film Blog: Lost and Sound

Lost and Sound stills - Nick 1 HIGH RES (1)
By Emer Kinsella- Music composer for film and multimedia

The documentary film Lost and Sound gives an insight into life without hearing and an exploration into the ways that deaf people have re-adapted and rediscovered music through new possibilities of experiencing the art form.

Neuroscientific research on music shows us how important and effective music is on our well being and can be felt on a physical level by everyone. Experiments into cognitive activity with deaf people listening to music suggest that they can feel vibrations in the same way that hearing people can hear music. Deaf performing musicians often perform barefoot to better feel the vibrations through their bodies. The response on the brain to these vibrations creates the same pleasurable reactions that someone would experience when hearing music.

Surgeons should also be careful to preserve the auditory cortex when performing brain surgery on deaf people as it holds an important function beyond hearing. Beethoven composed one of his greatest works, his ninth symphony while deaf, proving that it is possible to create and connect to music without being able to hear. Adding captions describing sound cues are useful additions to visual mediums. This gives deaf people a better idea of which sound environment to expect and feel in relation to the visual material.

Lost and Sound is showing on Sunday September 13th from 2:00-4:00pm. Be sure to check this one and other films out at Reel Abilities film festival.

Every Voice Matters

mq1ReelAbilities Chicago is partnering with StoryCorps to create a unique opportunity, born of two complementary missions.  The mission of ReelAbilities: to share the human experience of disability through art, film, and stories.  The mission of StoryCorps: to provide people of all backgrounds with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it… Share your story with a close friend at StoryCorps in Chicago on Friday, September 11th, 2015!!!  We are offering a full day of recording sessions in connection with the festival at the StoryBooth, located on the 1st floor of the Chicago Cultural Center. To sign up, contact matt@reelabilitieschicago.org stating your interest, and we will send you a Reservation link and password. There are just a handful of slots remaining, so act fast!

Don’t be shy… We’ve test-driven the StoryBooth process ourselves, and it was a blast. On July 9, 2015, Chicago ReelAbilities Film Festival co-directors Reveca Torres, Grishma Shah, and Matt Lauterbach recorded their own story. This is the result!

Not sure what StoryCorps is all about?  Check out their website to learn more! StoryCorps interviews work best with two people — yourself, and someone close to you who can ask you great questions. And if you’re not free on September 11th, StoryCorps has an awesome mobile app that you can use to record and upload your story anywhere, anytime.

Every voice matters — so we hope you’ll share your story.

BeamPro in Chicago this September!

WorkingMother_webNational Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago makes cutting-edge
technology available for patrons with disabilities.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago (NMHM Chicago) will house a Beam Smart Presence System from Suitable Technologies during the month of September in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The BeamPro is part of the TechAbility exhibit which will launch at NMHM Chicago September 11th with the ReelAbilities film FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement. This is the first time this technology will be in Chicago!

NMHM Chicago is participating in Suitable Technologies Museum Partnership Program. Sites receive a BeamPro SPS to grant access to people who are physically unable to travel. From anywhere in the world, a user may “beam” into participating museums to view galleries and experience museums firsthand from the comfort of their computer. BeamPro will have special appearances at Opening Night and other ReelAbilities events. The system will also be available to patrons who wish to visit the museum remotely throughout the month of September.

In July President Obama spoke in the White House about the 25th Anniversary of the ADA and interacted with Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator of the Disability Visibility Project. She attended the event remotely using BeamPro via webcam and moved around simply by clicking the arrows on a laptop’s keyboard. Alice was the first person to use this type of device in the White House.

ReelAbilities Film Festival (RAFF) is the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to sharing the human experience of disability through art and film. The Chicago festival is hosted by BACKBONES – a local nonprofit providing support for people with spinal cord injuries – and supported by a partnership with ADA 25 Chicago, a citywide initiative and public awareness campaign that is commemorating and leveraging the 25th anniversary of the ADA. RAFF Chicago is scheduled for September 9 -13, 2015 and includes films with engaging panel discussions, guest speakers, exhibitions, performances, and opening/closing night celebrations.

All events are FREE to the public and ADA friendly!

The WOMEN of ReelAbilities Chicago

Cobb-front-cover1If you haven’t noticed, ReelAbilities is about sharing stories and highlighting diversity. Although our lineup of films for the Chicago ReelAbilities reflects stories of disability and the human experience, we would also like you to know that over half of the films we will be screening are films that were directed by women!

Today we would like to celebrate the following women and their films! We have partnered with Directed By Women Worldwide Viewing Party to showcase women directed films from September 1-15, 2015. Please join us for a film or ALL of them in Chicago September 9-13, 2015. Share the films and please use hashtags: #getREELChicago #DirectedByWomen

On Beauty
by Joanna Rudnick
Wednesday, September 9

Keep the Change
by Rachel Israel
Wednesday, September 9

Sound Shadows
by Julie Engaas
Wednesday, September 9

Wretches & Jabberers
by Gerardine Wurzburg
Thursday, September 10

Scarlet Road
by Catherine Scott
Saturday, September 12

by Regan Brashear
Saturday, September 12

Getting Up
by Caskey Ebeling
Sunday, September 13

Lost and Sound
by Lindsey Dryden
Sunday, September 13

Flying Anne
by Catherine Van Campen
Sunday, September 13

Sounds for Mazin
by Ingrid Kamerling
Sunday, September 13

Chicago gets REEL this September!

ReelAbilities Film Festival partners with ADA25 Chicago

June 30, 2015 (Chicago,IL) – ReelAbilities Film Festival is the largest film festival in the United States dedicated to sharing the human experience of disability through art and film. The Chicago festival is scheduled for September 9 -13, 2015 and includes films with engaging panel discussions, guest speakers, exhibitions, performances, and opening/closing night celebrations. The purpose of ReelAbilities Chicago is to initiate dialogue and critical thinking about the perception and stereotypes of the disability experience in the Chicago community through the platform of film, art, media and powerful imagery.

BACKBONES (Chicago’s host organization) is a local nonprofit providing support for people with spinal cord injuries, and has partnered with ADA25 Chicago, a citywide initiative and public awareness campaign under the Chicago Community Trust, which celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other partners include Comcast, Chicago Cultural Center, National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago, Columbia College, Reva and David Logan Center, Bodies of Work.

The films range from dynamic, funny, thought-provoking and eye-opening! They celebrate the stories, lives and art of people who experience disability.

“Having ReelAbilities in Chicago is important because it gives filmmakers with disabilities a chance to showcase their work and it provides an outlet to show people what we’re capable of as filmmakers, producers, actors, and actresses.” – Justin Cooper, Chicago Filmmaker, Wheelchair Chronicles

“Many of us who identify as people with disability celebrate that aspect of our identity. And so we have a culture, and as any culture we have an art, we have stories, so the film festival tells a story of that culture.” – Kara Ayers, co-chair ReelAbilities Cincinnati

“There couldn’t be a more appropriate way to share stories and celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act” – Reveca Torres, Festival Director


Contact: Reveca Torres
Executive Director