The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

FilmScene launches first annual Iowa Disability Film Festival

The nonprofit theater partnered with the University of Iowa to platform the festival in Iowa.
Kathy Le
An ASL interpreter signs for the founder of FilmScene Andrew Sherburne during the Iowa Disability Film Festival: FULL CIRCLE at the Chauncey FilmScene on Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

FilmScene launched its first annual Iowa Disability Film Festival on Wednesday.

During this three-day festival, which runs from March 20-22, three independent films are scheduled to be shown, centering around stories of individuals who have disabilities: “Full Circle,” “Being Michelle,” and “A Friend Indeed: The Bill Sackter Story.”

The fest aimed to offer films that touch on topics less discussed in mainstream media.

“In the film world and particularly in Hollywood, privilege is a particular set of narratives that of white straight, able-bodied writers and filmmakers,” said Rob Ascher, the community engagement and programming coordinator at FilmScene.

Talya Miller, who attended the festival debut and is an ambulatory wheelchair user, said accessibility within the media is at a low for individuals who have disabilities.

Another attendee, Lauren Spears, remarked on changes in the media regarding the accurate representation of people who have disabilities.

“More inclusivity is needed in general,” Spears said.

With this in mind, FilmScene has strived to expand its programmatic offerings, giving all movie-goers throughout the community accurate representation and a platform to discuss prevalent issues faced within the community, Ascher said.

“We wanted to make it a nice wide way to talk about disability and the way it directly affects people in Iowa City, and the way it has resonated with Iowans,” Ascher said. “We are trying to improve how we interact with disability in our theater.”

The Iowa City cinema started planning for the event last year, working in partnership with the ReelAbilities film festival, the University of Iowa Libraries, as well as the UI Department of Health and Human Physiology, the UI Council on Disability Awareness, Therapeutic Recreation, and Iowa’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities.

“The common theme is three people [who], despite the world’s disregard and, at times, content for their lives as disabled adults, were able to advocate for themselves and lead a life that was not limited by this country’s unwillingness to meet them where they are at,” Ascher said.

Wednesday’s debut screening of the 2023 documentary “Full Circle,” directed by Josh Berman, follows Trevor Kennison and Barry Corbet, two men who navigate adaptive equipment in backcountry sports after severe spinal cord injuries rendered them disabled.

On Thursday, the festival will show the 2022 documentary “Being Michelle,” directed by Atin Mehra. The true story follows Michelle Ricks, a Deaf woman diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, who faced wrongful incarceration and survived five years of imprisonment and abuse, all without a sign language interpreter.

“[Ricks] continued to be failed by the prison system [and] by the court system because it was difficult for her to advocate for herself the way she needed,” Ascher said on Mehra’s film.

Ascher said members of the UI Police Department plan to be in attendance for upcoming screenings. FilmScene hopes that attendance from UIPD staff members could help to enact change in our community when law enforcement works with disabled citizens.

“Iowa City has a great history of helping people with disabilities,” said Lane Wyrick, the director of “A Friend Indeed: The Bill Sackter Story.”

Wyrick’s film follows the story of Bill Sackter, a man, who had an intellectual disability, who was widely known around Iowa City in the 1970s and ‘80s. His story became the basis for the 1981 movie “Bill,” starring Mickey Rooney.

RELATED: FilmScene celebrates 10 years of growing the IC film community

“A Friend Indeed” was initially released in 2008 at Hancher Auditorium. Last fall, Wyrick was approached by FilmScene about the Disability Film Festival.

“I encourage people to come to the festival to talk to people and get connected. Bill Sackter brought people together, and that’s what this festival can do: Bring people together,” Wyrick said.

The festival screenings will be presented in open captions during showings, and an American Sign Language interpreter will be present during the after-film discussions hosted by filmmakers and panelists from the community.

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About the Contributor
Kathy Le, Photojournalist
Kathy Le is a fourth-year student at The University of Iowa majoring in 3D design and Art History. This is her first year working as a photojournalist of Daily Iowan.