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Local festival sparks conversation about the representation of disability in film

By Rachel Woodward, March 15 2016 —

Picture This…Film Festival, an annual Calgary festival screening films with the theme of disability, is returning for its 15th year from March 16–18. Every film shown at the festival was either created by a person with a disability or is a discussion about topics surrounding disability.

Festival director Sheryl Lenthall says representation in film is important.

“There is a community out there that doesn’t always get its films into the mainstream. It was hard for people to get their work shown and now, that’s actually not true,” Lenthall says. “A lot of these films do get entered into mainstream festivals. It really does bring the world together and it really does make the world seem like a pretty small place.”

Forty-three films will screen over the three-day festival, ranging from 30-second shorts to full-length feature films.

Films with similar themes are grouped together. The final block of the festival, for instance, focuses on the theme of “drama and the dramatic” and will show pieces like Guang, which tells the story of an autistic boy and his brother.

According to Lenthall, themes of disability are becoming more prominent in film festivals.

“Since we’ve been around, there have been an increasing number of festivals specifically on the theme of disability around the world,” she says. “These are films coming in from around the world,and they are entertaining.”

Lenthall says many viewers are surprised by the variety and scope of films shown throughout the festival.

“Primarily, they are here for entertainment, but if you get inspired and educated along the way, then that’s great too,” Lenthall says. “The misunderstanding is often because the theme is disability, people think its going to be sad or depressing and in fact, it’s far from it. There’s great comedies, great animations and dramas.”

The festival is an initiative of the Calgary SCOPE Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting people with disabilities. The festival also takes place at the society.

“They’re an organization that specifically works with people with developmental disabilities, but there’s a senior’s department and there’s children and there’s adults. There’s a full spectrum of life,” Lenthall says.

During the rest of the year, organizers share submissions with broader audiences through the Picture This…On the Road series. At these showings, the festival curates a selection of films from the festival for screenings across Canada.

“We get asked to come in and show some films — it’s a specifically put together series of films for that audience. We usually do around a dozen a year,” Lenthall says. “It’s actually really exciting. I love taking the films to new corners.”

In addition to exhibiting films, Picture This is also a competitive film festival that recognizes submissions in categories including “Best Animation” and “Best Education.”

Most importantly, popcorn is free at all screenings.

For tickets and more information about Picture This…Film Festival, visit ptff.org

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