UCSF to Showcase Film Series to Raise Awareness of People with Disabilities

By Lisa Cisneros

UC San Francisco is launching a new film series to raise awareness of disabilities as part of the University’s efforts to foster equity, inclusion and appreciation of diversity of all kinds.

The “UCSF ReelAbilities” Film Series will debut on Tuesday, Oct. 18, presented by the Chancellor’s Committee on Disability Issues and the Office of Diversity and Outreach.

portrait of Bruce Flynn
Bruce Flynn

“The intent of these film screenings is to engage the campus community around issues of disability awareness, inclusion and unconscious bias,” says Bruce Flynn, co-chair of the Chancellor’s committee and director of UCSF Risk Management and Insurance Services.

The film series is made possible through a grant from the Mayerson Foundation to UCSF ReelAbilities Film Festival to host the series in San Francisco.

UCSF will host the film series throughout the 2016-17 academic year, with a more intensive three-day film festival occurring between Jan. 26 and 28, 2017. These films will cover topics that challenge beliefs and biases about many disability issues, including AIDS, autism, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and deafness.

The film series at UCSF will kickoff at noon on Oct. 18 featuring an award-winning film about wheelchair ballroom dancers, created by documentary producer/director and freelance journalist David Block, who has been legally blind since birth.

Titled “Dancing Outside the Box,” the 2012 film merges the rhythm of music with the graceful movements of dancers as they glide across the floor. “Dancing Outside the Box” shows how wheelchair users and their able-bodied partners bring their two worlds together on the dance floor, creating beauty in motion and proving that everyone can dance.

Block, who started making documentaries in 1991, is unable to attend the screening at UCSF on Oct. 18. He said he drew his inspiration for the film after writing an article about a wheelchair dancer and watching a demonstration.

The film has received several awards, most recently, The Life Tree Award at the 2013 Life Tree International Film Festival in Loveland, Colo., and Best Documentary Short at the 2013 Eugene International Film Festival in Eugene, Ore.

“Whatever you thought you knew about dancing, throw it out the window, because this documentary shows a whole new side of moving to music,” wrote a reviewer at the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

A man in a wheechair dances with a woman, who is leaping in the air
Dancers from the AXIS Dance Co., one of the world’s most acclaimed and innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities, will perform before the film screening at UCSF on Oct. 18. Photo by David DeSilva

Before the film screening, UCSF will feature a live performance by the acclaimed AXIS Dance Co. in Oakland. Founded in 1987, AXIS has become one of the world’s most acclaimed and innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities. In 1997, Judith Smith became its artistic director, expanding the company from in-house choreographers to various commissions from outside the company.

“Disability is not seen as a limitation by the members our troupe, but as an attribute which actually opens new avenues of expression,” Smith says.

The film will be followed by a discussion moderated by Kimberly Topp, PT, PhD, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation and Smith.

Flynn, a member of the UCSF community since 1981 and one of the founding members of the Chancellor’s Committee on Disability Issues, says this is the first time that UCSF is hosting a film series focusing on people with disabilities. The film series is the major initiative this year for the committee, which is co-chaired by Nathaniel “Nat” Gleason, MD.

The committee has enlisted Kathleen O’Hara, a film and event consultant, to organize the series of disability film events this academic year.

The coming year will bring films to UCSF which “challenge our perceptions about disability and push the boundaries of our assumptions about the possible,” says O’Hara. “People with disabilities face pervasive inequality which intersects with other forms of inequality we already address in our work and personal lives. The ReelAbilities Film Series seeks to expand our understanding of the barriers faced by people with disabilities as well as the value of adopting a more inclusive perspective.”

UCSF has worked with the ReelAbilities Film Festival since 2014 showing short films from its archives. The festival was the first of its kind to present award-winning films by and about people with disabilities.

For more campus news and resources, visit Pulse of UCSF.