Superfest aims to change perception of disabilities through film

The Superfest film festival continues to change the perception of disability through the lenses of film.

As it kicks off on Nov. 4 in Berkeley, it becomes the longest running disability film festival in the world since it got its start in 1970.

It’s hosted by SF State’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability and San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

The Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability shares disabled people’s experiences through avenues like education, scholarships and cultural events.

The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired provide extensive help for those who are visually impaired, promoting self reliance, equality and innovative technology for the blind.

Emily Smith Beitiks, associate director of Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability and coordinator for Superfest, believes it is important to have accurate and diverse representation in the festival because of what it does for the disabled community.

“There is something really powerful that happens about that moment where you get to see yourself on screen, where you get to feel your experience is bigger than your own and you’re connected with something,” she said.

Each film submitted to the festival must be audio transcribed and captioned.The judges also have disabilities, which ensures the films contain accurate representations of the disability community.

The 15 selected films were shot in nine different countries and aim to represent a mixture of issues, perspectives and disabilities.

Disabilities from visual impairment, hearing loss to developmental conditions, will not only be represented, but the films will also represent other marginalized communities and identities.

“You are also going to see people represented beyond disabilities, like people of color and queer stories,” Beitiks said. “We want everyone to have that one moment or that one film that clicks or connects.”

SF state alumnus, Alex Locust, who graduated in 2017 with a Master of Science in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling, said he had that moment in last year’s festival.

The current counselor at SF State was moved by the film “Terminal Device,” directed and written by Ross Turnbull. He said the film utilized popular media like “Peter Pan” and “Edward Scissorhands” to share the director’s experience growing up as an amputee, and offered an opportunity for the audience to consider their own perception of amputees that the media industry shows.

“As a below-the-knee amputee since birth, I left the film feeling validated and moved hearing another amputee express similar sentiments that I had never heard another person articulate before, let alone so beautifully through such a well-crafted film,” Locust said via email.

Locust believes the film industry’s problem is that not enough disabled people are telling the stories being shown in film, but rather these stories are being told by those without disabilities, which paints a flawed depiction of the community.

“The less the industry is telling stories for disabled people and more by them, the more we’ll get to see accurate, complex, and engaging representations of disability,” he said.

Kate Amunrud, alumna of SF State, got involved with Superfest after she interned for the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability and promoted last year’s festival.

She believes this film festival is more important than ever because of the political climate.

“With a sitting president who has publicly mocked people with disabilities, conversations about disability representation and rights are urgently needed,” she said. “The films in this year’s festival cover pertinent topics like racism, healthcare, homelessness, and many others that are pressing issues in our lives today.”

Superfest was once ran only by volunteers, and although it has grown with the help of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the goal still hasn’t changed.

“Our mission and work is to try and get non-disabled people to the festival to see these films because it can totally change the assumptions that we have about disabilities that we don’t even know we have in a real non threatening way,” Beitiks said.