Backstage with Sandy Kenyon: The ReelAbilities Film Festival

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The ReelAbilities Film Festival promotes awareness and appreciation of those who are mentally and physically challenged by presenting films that show their everyday lives.

"The festival is for films that are by and about people with different disabilities of any kind across a spectrum," organizer Isaac Zablocki said. "People ask me, 'Is this a disability?' 'Is that a disability?' And the answer is usually yes."

The festival was founded in 2007 by the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, and according to its website, the ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York is the largest in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities.

"It takes these stories that are often pushed into the corner and puts them in the center and highlights them and gives them a platform and celebrates these stories," Zablocki said.

Zablocki says this year's festival has more entrants than every before and is also more accessible than ever.

"We love it when everyone can be a part, so we invite people with disabilities and also the mainstream," he said.

Actor Chris Cooper's late son Jesse Lanier Cooper, who had cerebral palsy and who died suddenly from epilepsy when he was 17, is the subject of one of the featured films, called "Intelligent Lives."

"Chris Cooper and his wife have been outspoken on this topic," Zablocki said. "And they are not only lending their names, but are actually lending their story to this film to highlight this concept of people who are not appreciated because they're different."

Another film, "Crazy," tells the story of a young man with schizophrenia who decides to go off his medication because of possible side effects.

"ReelAbilities is a great festival for me, because it's a festival that's really exploring diversity of abilities," director Lise Zumwalt said. "And that includes mental diversities as well."

A film by director Dave Adams examines the unconditional love offered by parents of children with disabilities.

"My film is a short documentary called 'The Unconditional,'" Adams said. "It's about two undiagnosed special needs children and their parents, and their unconditional love that they give them every day...Anyone with a special needs child goes through these struggles that we don't see, and I think the film really opens up the audiences' eyes to these daily struggles."

Zablocki believes the films featured at the festival offer a true-to-life view many people might not be exposed to or aware of due to how disabilities can be portrayed in film and on TV.

"Often, we're given one kind of view of both disabilities through media, and it's not necessarily a positive one or an authentic one," he said. "And ReelAbilities tries to share the real stories of people with disabilities in the highest quality of ways."

The festival begins on April 2 and runs through April 9.

CLICK HERE for information, movie schedules and ticket information.

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