ReelAbilities Film Festival features insights of unlimited ability

ReelAbilities Film Festival features insights of unlimited ability

ReelAbilities Shorts Program
ReelAbilities Shorts Program

A film festival of exceptional ability is in store for Pittsburghers. Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 2, the fourth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival will take place at Rodef Shalom Congregation. As in previous years, with its cadre of beautifully shot films and insightful tales, the festival will showcase stories and experiences of people with different disabilities.  

“We anticipate a terrific festival that will raise awareness, promote dialogue, change perceptions, and celebrate the many contributions of people with disabilities to our society,” said Kristy Trautmann, executive director of the FISA Foundation.

Along with the FISA Foundation, a grant-making foundation that seeks to improve the lives of women, girls and people with disabilities in the 10-county area of southwestern Pennsylvania, JFilm, the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum, will co-sponsor the 14 day event.

Much like JFilm’s successful JFilm Festival, which will enter its 24th season this April, many of the ReelAbilities screenings are paired with accompanying events.

After making its Pittsburgh premiere on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m., “Becoming Bulletproof,” the festival’s opening film — which follows artists from Zeno Mountain Farm who congregate annually to make a Hollywood movie and discover friendship — a conversation will be held with AJ Murray, an actor living with cerebral palsy, and Will Halby, co-founder and director of Zeno Mountain Farm.

Similarly, on Tuesday, Oct. 25, following the 7 p.m. screening of “Gabe,” a documentary following Gabe Weil, a young man with severe muscular dystrophy who shortly after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis discovers that his life expectancy has doubled, a conversation will be held with Luke Terrell, the film’s director.

Perhaps of interest for those seeking briefer stories but of equal worth, included among the festival is an evening of shorts. On Sunday, Oct. 30, at 4 p.m., seven films totaling 70 minutes will deliver notable accounts regarding abilities.

Two shorts deserving attention are “Midfield” and “The Last Bookstore.” The former, a Portuguese film by Pedro Amorim, presents a snapshot into the life of a dock worker. The film is visually stunning as it contrasts a seemingly drab shipping yard with the light of a gymnasium. With its reliance on luminescence, the film — only six minutes in length — truly shines as it offers multiple instances of visual impact.

While “The Last Bookstore,” an 11-minute American film, also offers viewers several visual treats — particularly the bookstore’s unique decor — the documentary’s narrative serves as its greatest gift. “The Last Bookstore” introduces viewers to Josh Spencer, the store’s owner and operator. Through the use of home and business staged recordings, Spencer’s life as a father, husband and paraplegic is shared. His inspiring tale, and the efforts needed to run a bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, offer insights and hope of immeasurable length.

Throughout the ReelAbilities festival, screenings will be followed by receptions with vegan, kosher and gluten-free options. Also of interest to festival goers is an accompanying art exhibit sponsored by the Fine Foundation. Works from “Reinventing the Wheel,” a photography project pairing 21 people with spinal cord injuries with 21 photographers from cities nationwide to create photo essays, will be displayed in the Rodef Shalom commons area between Oct. 20 and Nov. 2.

With its films, speakers, receptions and accompanying art exhibit, ReelAbilities will offer much for festival goers.

“These are great films of great interest to a wide range of moviegoers,” said Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of JFilm. “We’re bringing in great speakers that are involved in the films. I really encourage people to take advantage of these great offerings and learn a little bit and open the mind.”

The ReelAbilities Film Festival will take place between Oct. 20 and Nov. 2 at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Ave. Free and accessible parking is located in back of the building. All films will be presented with open captions, audio description and ASL interpretation. If you need accommodations other than those listed above, contact JFilm at 412-426-FILM (3456) or in advance if possible. Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door if not sold out. Financial assistance available.

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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