The Superfest International Disability Film Festival, the world’s longest running film festival dedicated to films by and about the disabled community, takes place this weekend at the Gaia Arts Center in downtown Berkeley.
Superfest was founded three decades ago in Southern California and made its way up to Berkeley about 15 years ago. The festival has long made its home at La Peña on Shattuck Avenue in South Berkeley, where it accomodated as many as 40 patrons per screening. But as the festival’s reputation has grown so has attendance, necessitating a change in venue. Thus this year’s festival will be held downtown at the Gaia Arts Center, a venue that can accomodate more than 100 theatergoers.
Each fall, Superfest, a presentation of Culture! Disability! Talent!, sends out a call for entries and by January receives submissions from all over the world. This year’s call brought in more than 40 films from 10 countries. The program will consist of 13 of these films, representing seven countries and more than a dozen disabilities. The festival runs Saturday morning through Sunday night, and includes a reception and awards ceremony from 6-9 Saturday evening with live entertainment and opportunities for the public to meet the filmmakers.
The festival starts at noon Saturday with The Rest of My Life: Stories of Trauma Survivors (USA, 25 minutes), a look at the lives of two people whose lives were transformed by sudden violence. The first is Presley LaFountain, a Chippewa sculptor whose injuries from a brutal hate crime nearly robbed him of the ability to pursue his art. The second is a young woman, a yoga instructor, who fought to regain her strength after a car accident. The film alternates between the two, allowing each to tell their own story, detailing the ways in which their lives were radically altered in an instant.
A local film screens at 1:20 Saturday, spotlighting an Oakland arts center and its resident star. Outsider: The Life and Art of Judith Scott (USA, 26 minutes) presents a moving portrait of a deaf woman with Down syndrome who, after more than 30 years of institutionalization, finally got a second chance to prove that she was not a lost cause. Scott, with the support of her twin sister and Creative Growth, an Oakland art studio for the disabled, began a career as a fiber artist that led to international acclaim. The film was directed by San Francisco filmmaker Betsy Bayha and is the winner of Superfest’s Excellence Award.
Another short film, showing at 2:40 p.m. Saturday, follows the process by which a 14-year-old deaf girl develops a spoken-word performance in sign language, accompanined by an orchestra. Symphony of Silence (Canada, 22 minutes) conveys the poetry of movement by revealing the range of subtle inflection possible within the gestures of American Sign Language and, in a striking shot during the final performance, juxtaposes the movements of the poet with the sweeping gestures of the conductor in a stirring tribute to the power of physical expression.
Sunday’s schedule will feature a similarly broad program of films. Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life (USA, 92 minutes), screening at 3:40 p.m., traces the journey of a young man with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who sets out with a group of friends on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to persuade MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” to overhaul Darius’ motorozied wheelchair.
Screening at 5:30 p.m., Planet of the Blind (Germany, 20 minutes) takes the program in a radically different direction with a poetic rumination on blindness that pairs the words from Stephen Kuusisto’s best-selling memoir with distorted images to simulate the experience of living with impaired vision.
The festival closes with the 6 p.m. screening of The Epidemic (Denmark, 51 minutes), the winner of Superfest’s 2007 grand prize. The Epidemic is a stirring Danish film that combines archival footage of that country’s 1952 polio epidemic with a first-person account of the tragedy from Neils Frandsen and his family. Frandsen was a child at the time, and through his own dream-like narration and interviews with his parents and sister we get a harrowing and inspiring glimpse of a family caught up in an epidemic beyond their control or comprehension.
Other films include:
• Headstrong: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and ADHD (USA, 27 minutes), co-produced by Ben Foss and Chloe Sladden of San Francisco and Steve Schecter of Oakland. The film won this year’s Achievement Award for its uplifting look at the lives of people living with dyslexia and ADHD.
• Stroke (Germany, 58 minutes) by Katrina Peters, winner of the Achievement Award for its look at the impact Peters’ young husband’s massive stroke has had on their relationship. Peters, who lives in Germany, studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1990s.
• Mercury Stole My Fire (Australia,12 minutes), in which a woman’s environmental illness is dramatized through mime and poetry.
• Carmela (Mexico, 30 minutes), the story of a polio survivor and her adult son with Down syndrome.
• No Bigger Than a Minute (USA, 53 minutes), an irreverent portrait of how dwarves, or people of short stature, have been represented on screen since the earliest days of film.
• Seeing is Believing (Russia, 13 minutes), a portrait of a blind Moscow college student.
• Let Us Spell It Out For You (USA, 3 minutes), a pastiche of spirtuals and folk songs performed in sign language to protest government funding cuts to deaf theater programs.
International Disability Film Festival
Noon-5 p.m. Saturday and 2-7 p.m. Sunday. A “Meet the Makers” reception will take place from 6-7 p.m. Saturday, followed by an awards ceremony from 7-9 p.m., both free of charge and open to the public. The venue is wheelchair-accessible. Braille and large-print screening schedules will be provided at the event. Please refrain from wearing perfume and other scented products. Gaia Arts Center, 2120 Allston Way. Tickets cost $5-$20 each day on a sliding scale and will be sold at the door. For a complete schedule, visit www.culturedisabilitytalent.org or call the CDT voice mailbox at 845-5576.
Photograph: Images of the child are projected onto the man in Neils Frandsen’s The Epidemic, a memoir of Denmark’s 1952 polio epidemic.