The average disabled worker makes only $2 an hour. “How would you like to work two weeks and come out with a $6 check?” asked Betty Williams, a training coordinator in Indianapolis.
This injustice – and disabled people who have managed to achieve success despite of it – is the subject of the 2016 documentary “Bottom Dollars,” one of the many films shown at the ReelAbilities Film Festival, under the umbrella of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, that highlighted the diversity of experiences and achievements of disabled people.
The most recent Boston festival (there are ReelAbilities festivals in 16 other cities) ran from March 26 to April 3, and showed 11 films at 11 venues across Greater Boston. “Bottom Dollars” was screened at the Greater Boston JCC in Newton.
“We’re hoping to share stories of people with a variety of abilities, and so we really try and diversify our programming based on different abilities that people have, we diversify our venues, our outreach partners, so we screen at a different venue each night,” said Mara Bresnahan, director of ReelAbilities Boston. “It’s a very eclectic festival.”
This year’s festival showed films about a one-armed surfer who managed to beat out a six-time world champion; a documentary following the life of guide dogs; a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who was able to thrive despite paralysis and PTSD; and a rock guitarist with a paralyzed hand.
Sometimes, the film being screened had a relationship to the venue. A film called “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw,” about the mental health struggles of the celebrated basketball player, was shown at the Mass General Hospital Department of Psychiatry’s Center for Diversity. After each showing, viewers were able to ask questions with either the director or Holdsclaw herself.
“We’ve had some incredible conversations and incredible evenings,” said Bresnahan, who moderates the panel discussions. “We had three of the [‘Far From the Tree’] subjects who are men in their forties with Down syndrome who live together and are nearly inseparable as friends – they call themselves the “three musketeers” – and one of their mothers, is a well-known activist in the disability community. It was an incredible conversation – the insights they shared – the insights the mom shared – it was really profound.”
All of the screenings were free, primarily because of support from the Ruderman Family Foundation, which is the festival’s primary sponsor. “The festival wouldn’t be possible without the Ruderman Foundation, so we owe a ton of gratitude to them for making this be a reality every year,” said Bresnahan.
Many other Jewish organizations and foundations have supported the festival, including the Rita J. and Stanley H. Kaplan Family Foundation; Combined Jewish Philanthropies; Jewish Family and Children’s Services; Jewish Vocational Service; Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters; Gateways: Access to Jewish Education; the JCC of Greater Boston; the JCC of Manhattan; the Dobkin Family Foundation; and New England Yachad.