Superfest Disability Film festival: Going Above & Beyond

Superfest Disability Film Festival Logo

When the Covid 19 Pandemic forced a shutdown, some people and organizations were in the position to really step up in different ways. Cathy Kudlick & Emily Beitiks from the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability home to The Superfest Film Festival are among this group.

In this episode we’re discussing the history of Superfest and more including:
* Providing online content for an underserved community during the Pandemic
* Defining 101 vs. 201 Disability Films
* Creating a template for Accessible Film Festivals
And of course More on what you can expect from Superfest 2020 on October 17 & 18, 2020. Plus, join me on a quick journey “Back in the Day “through my own movie experience over the years.

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Transcript

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Audio: Record player static… “Back in the Day” Instrumental, Ahmad

TR:

Every now and then I like to tell my kids about my experience growing up. It puts things into a perspective. At least that’s my intent. They usually just make fun of me.

I tell them how as a young child growing up in the 70’s we used to get dressed up to go to the movies. I mean actually put on our good clothes. For me that meant dress pants which more than likely was polyester. Hard bottom shoes and dress shirts or sweaters.

(“Yuk”)

Movies were an experience.

Over the years that experience changed. By the early 80’s, I didn’t get dressed up and go downtown with my family, we now had a local theater. I could go with my friends, choose my own clothes. At first that was during the day time, but then as I got a bit older and a new multiplex theater was built in the borough, we all traveled there on Friday and Saturday nights.

Audio: Krush Groove Movie Trailer…

RIP, to the Whitestone Theater in the Bronx!

The experience continued to change. I changed as well. I began to prefer going to the movies during the day again. Eventually with my own family.

For a few years, I stopped going to the movies altogether. That was when I could no longer see the screen. I didn’t return until a theater about 30 minutes away from my home began offering Audio Description. That process wasn’t very smooth at first, but it did get better.

Now I’m back to my family trying to tell me what to wear.

Today, Covid 19 has obviously made adaptation a requirement for just about everything in our society. As we’ve seen, these adaptations paired with accessibility can equal opportunity. It’s not permanent, we know experiences evolve. When it’s inclusive, well I think that’s a good thing!

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with my sweat-shirts!

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer!
You’re rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Cathy:

My name is Cathy kudlick and I’m Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. I should spell out Longmore because so many people here it as lawn mower, but it’s Longmore. It’s a disability cultural center. We try to kind of get people to think about disability in new and creative and innovative ways.

I’m a History professor in addition to my role as Director at the Longmore Institute and I teach Disability History among other things and I come at this largely as somebody who grew up with a serious vision impairment and was in complete denial through much of my life trying to pass and pretend and all of those things and then a random encounter with somebody and then started to read more about blindness tuff and disability stuff and all of that led to kind of start to say hey there’s nothing to be ashamed of here so why not embrace what’s really cool about this and think about it in new ways.

TR:

Thinking about disability in new ways. We’re going to come back to that.

If you’ve been riding with Reid My Mind Radio, you’re probably thinking we’re about to dive into Cathy’s journey. It’s obvious, Cathy’s story falls in line with this podcast’s mission. Well, for now that’s not the case. She has however, agreed to come back to share her story on a future episode.

Today’s episode is all about the…

(Audio: “Super, Super Super, from Super Rhymes by Jimmy Spicer)

Superfest Disability Film Festival.

Also here to take us through the festival is Emily Beitiks the Associate Director at the Longmore Institute on Disability.

Emily:

I’m the Coordinator of Superfest. I work with the film makers each year to help them audio describe their films and work with the audience each year as we kind of learn from them what works what doesn’t work and bring Superfest into other arenas to kind of broaden the reach of where our films are seen and introducing people to audio description for the first time when I do school assemblies or go to libraries or not your traditional Superfest audience. I’m a non-Disabled accomplice in this world. My mom had a disability since before I was born so I’ve been really passionate about bringing my own experiences kind of straddling both worlds experiencing disability discrimination and also participating in it as being a non-disabled person.

TR:

Let’s start with a bit of history.

Emily:

Superfest was started in Southern California in Los Angeles in 1970. It switched hands to various organizations over the years and migrated up to the Bay area where it was run for many years by Culture Disability Talent. It was a really well loved grass roots effort volunteer lead.

TR:
Running an event like this solely with volunteers can be a challenge. In 2012, Superfest found a new home with The Paul K Longmore Institute on Disabilities and The San Francisco Lighthouse.

Emily:

It was just kind of a very exciting match because the Longmore Institute was just getting started in a new sort of way as our founder Paul Longmore had passed away and Cathy had come on as Director and Lighthouse was a really established organization but focusing more on direct services and was interested to kind of push their boundaries by doing some more cultural programming.

We partnered up and ran Superfest for the past seven years.

TR:

The festival, which originally was not an annual event, is now headed into its 34th year. This will be the first time it’s solely run by the Longmore Institute, as the Lighthouse leadership decided to focus on other programming.

Emily:

We were really lucky to have that partnership with Lighthouse for many years because they just had a sort of organizational structure for like getting the bills paid and the reservations booked that moved a lot faster than we were capable of when we were just getting started. We’re really lucky that they waited and gave us a lot of warning because now we’ve been up and running for some time and we’re ready to run the ship by ourselves.

Cathy:

The other thing that kind of got thrown into this that makes it less hard to measure what the big change is you know with Covid how much of this is ultimately going to be online anyway. We’re still trying to decide. We don’t quite know if the venues we want to have it at in mid-October are going to be open and ready and all that. So it’s hard to measure exactly what a new Superfest without Lighthouse is going to be like.

TR:

Fortunately, Superfest in October won’t be their first go at managing events online.

Emily:

For the last few years, we do an annual event called the Longmore Lecture in Disability Studies and we had started to experiment with using Zoom to live stream that event to be able to bring it to people that by nature of their disabilities they couldn’t come or geographically they couldn’t come in person. When shelter in place hit and we’re here in San Francisco which is one of the first places in the country that got the official lockdown, we kind of saw it as a real opportunity, we’re like oh, we can do online programming. We’ve had experience with this and we could figure out how to bring it to a festival environment.

TR:
The challenge in presenting films online is the threat of pirating.

Audio: Scene from Pirates of the Caribbean”

“You are without doubt, the worse Pirate I’ve ever heard of.”

Jack Sparrow: “But you have heard of me”

Emily:

But I knew I’d worked with enough film makers over the years who I could reach out to that their primary mission was just for people to see their films. So the risk of possibly somebody making an illegal recording was just not as big of a concern. The more people that see this film the better.

TR:

Some of the films included work from Reid My Mind Radio family members Cheryl Green & Day Al-Mohammed.

Emily:

People really need this right now. People are cut off from their community and at the same moment that there’s so much hurtful and ablest rhetoric circulating around disability. And so to be able to spend an evening or an afternoon watching some disability films it also really brings people together and celebrate disability and get at the nuances of life with a disability that certainly the mainstream media doesn’t always get, just felt like a really important possibility.

TR:

My initial interest in featuring Superfest here on the podcast began with access. I was really impressed with the way they just for me at least, appeared to come out of nowhere and start providing content for the disability community. The way they do access; not only did I feel included, but knowing others were also able to participate just felt like something I should share with the Reid My Mind Radio family.

I wasn’t the only one reacting.

Emily:

One person was like I’ve never been able to participate in any sort of film festival in my life because I spend most of my time in the bed. They said this was just incredible to get to be part of this. Another one that stood out was a guy who stayed up super late to watch in Kenya with a group of friends and was like that was absolutely worth staying up for. Now I have a group of friends and we’re going to watch all your programs. And he certainly has.

So just being able to bring this program to people that don’t have what we have in the Bay area has been really exciting.

Cathy:

Emily thought to do another really cool one which was Superfest Kids which was kind of a nice home schooling moment I guess, with disability awareness and it was all geared towards kids. How many people did we have on that one? Do you remember?

Emily:

We had about 150. A number of people were like my kids are supposed to be on a Zoom call with their class right now but this is a more important lesson.

TR:

A lesson that more of us need no matter our age.

For the unfamiliar, the idea of a disability film is something like;

Cathy:

Oh Disabled people are people too and isn’t it great that they’re there and this is a positive happy uplifting story. It’s not a depressing one whatever. Those are fine, but we highlight what we think is disability 201 – films that share the creativity and the ingenuity or the unexpectedness or the intersections of disability with other kinds of identities.

TR:

Identities like race, gender, sexuality

Considering the idea of Disability 101 versus 201, you may think those new to disability should begin sequentially. Cathy however doesn’t see it that way.

Cathy:

I would say go to Superfest right away because if you’ve even thought about disability for five seconds or anybody around you has thought about it, chances are they’ve seen some version. It’s usually some films by a family member or friend that just thinks wow you know it’s really great that so and so with fill in the disability and then fill in what they did. They either traveled somewhere or they climbed a mountain or they went to school.

TR:

The 101 or 201 classification isn’t about good or bad. The distinguishing factor between the two is 101 films aren’t often made with disabled people in mind.

Cathy:

We want people to sort of think about disability as experimental and as interesting and as passionate and not just as yet another feel good story about somebody climbing a mountain because they started to be more comfortable with their disability or they needed to prove themselves. We want to ask them to think about well what happens when that person comes down from the mountain. What’s their life like after that?

TR:

That’s another difference. The 101 films feature a single disability experience.

Cathy:
But the 201 version would have them speaking to other disabled people and kind of bonding. There would be some sort of connection and some sort of excitement and engagement. It’s not just like one person being show cased all by themselves.

It might be that they have a quirky view on things and they change the thinking of other disabled people or they changed the thinking of people around them to give an unexpected perspective on the world around them.

TR:

The 201 films like Superfest, really center disabled people. And at the end of the day, as Emily explains, the goal is pretty simple.

Emily:

We’re just trying to not have them be bored. Even if you are new to finding your disability identity, typically a 201 film can just go a lot farther with pushing people’s buttons and thinking like wow, there’s this whole world of thinking about disability that I haven’t seen before.

A few years back we came up with a list that we kind of think of 10 things that define disability 201 and what Superfest is all about. Things you’re going to find at Superfest that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

TR:

These are things like;
People with disabilities as the main characters
Intersectionality – people with disabilities aren’t just white men as often portrayed in movies. So at Superfest, you’ll see representation from Black, Latinex, and LGBT people with disabilities.

I’ll include a link to these ten categories on this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com.

At Superfest, all screenings include open Audio Description. So unlike when you attend a film at your local theater and you request the headset and receiver to privately stream the audio description, these films have the description streaming with the main audio. As Cathy notes, this does require some introduction for an audience unfamiliar with AD.

Cathy:

You’re going to hear this and you’re not used to it. Think about it as a new way of watching films. I’ve often thought of it as in that context of when they introduced talking to silent films. It’s another layer that people weren’t ready for and then suddenly like woh this is very new. The problem with that though is it can be sensory overload for people that have processing or cognitive stuff going on

TR:

A challenge of producing a film festival like Superfest is the idea that creating access for one group of people may unintentionally exclude another group.

For example, Emily talked about a film called To Be or not To Be. It featured a young man with Cerebral Palsy in Kazakhstan. The film which was in Russian, required translation. For sighted users, printed sub titles along the bottom portion of the screen will do the trick. Blind viewers require over dubbing.

Emily:

The focus of the film is really his incredible acting abilities. In making it accessible to the Blind we were then losing hearing this actor with CP and his own voice telling his own life story. So it was a really tough example of like a competing accommodation of wanting to bring access to the Blind but not wanting to lose this man’s voice.

TR:

This particular film worked out because it had enough quiet space that the description and dubbing was staggered to allow the actors voice to be heard. For this very reason, Superfest now determines which films are better suited for open description but offers closed description for others.

Emily:

So much of our work is working with these film makers to teach them, think about the problem and have tough conversations as we do it so that hopefully people are thinking about it in advance of making their films.
[TR in conversation with Emily:]

So what is that process like, of teaching the film makers?

Emily:

Well, when they apply to participate in Superfest, there’s a requirement box that they have to check that says that they’ll get their films captioned and audio described.

TR:

Most of those who apply are in agreement with this philosophy. In some cases especially for independent film makers, the cost of captioning and describing, while small in comparison to other production costs, can present a challenge.

Emily:

A lot of our film makers are able to get it done. Other times we have to work and get creative about finding funds ourselves to be able to cover those expenses or find funders that are willing to do it for them. With each film kind of think it through with the film makers and sort of talk through the strategies.

TR:

Funding is just one of the challenges. Some films may just be packed with dialog and visuals leaving little space or no space for description. Emily and Cathy explain how one such instance was managed and how the result can be a win for all involved.

Emily:

And so we were like we’re going to just have to add pauses to the film to do this right and get some of that Audio Description in. There were going to be visuals that like everyone in the crowd who was sighted was going to laugh at that and we didn’t want to risk that people would not get to experience those jokes. And so we built in those pauses and I think this film maker was super up for it.

Cathy:

You know when audio description’s done badly it’s horrible, it’s like suffocating on something that’s beautiful and something that’s not. But when it’s done well it kind of coaxes out some great stuff that’s already in there and enhances it. So she got somebody to audio describe the film that had the same snarky tone that the images did. So it totally enhanced the images for everybody.

Emily:

We’re introducing it to them for the first time but we’re also really trying to empower them to be advocates for what the final product is and be like you know your film best. You know if that visual right there matters or if that was just some B roll you needed to fill the shot. The more active that they can be in the audio description process if they do outsource, the better the results have been.

Cathy:

To me that’s the dream of a Superfest audio description experience where the film maker says woh this made my film better!

TR:

Currently, English and American Sign Language (ASL) are the only supported languages. However, an online festival offering multiple links for various languages would simplify the process in comparison to a live physical audience.

Getting that audience whether in person or not takes work.

Emily:

Shout out to our wonderful student assistants. Every time we have an event they get an email from me like okay, here’s the audience for this one, think of everybody you can and send them this email. We have like a big list of disability organizations all across the country, but then with each one we’re like who can we reach that would not have any interest in attending a disability film festival but because of this new sort of twist on it right, might be interested.

TR:

Selecting the students, or Longmore fellows, as Cathy refers to them is not about finding interns to get the job done.

Cathy:

We try to hire as many students with disabilities and put them in the majority as our kind of student workers but also we’re educating them and bringing them into community with each other about new ideas around disability.

TR:

The students are experiencing the mission of Superfest, advocacy, education and community building. All done through the phase one judging of the films.

Cathy:

It’s almost like a class but we get paid internships for students with disabilities to come and basically watch like 190 – 200 films and have to Weddle it down to like 10 or 15. And we teach them and they teach each other and they become advocates and learn about representation of disability and all these things by working together.

TR:

Both Cathy and Emily lead the interns in discussions about the films. With each of the students coming to disability from different angles as you can imagine, the conversations are rich and engaging.

For more on Superfest jurors, check out episode 76 of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Podcast. I’ll hook you up with that link on ReidMyMind.com.

While much of the world got caught flat footed during the pandemic, we see how the team at Superfest was in a position to quickly respond.

Emily:

We have always evolved with new twists and turns each year.

Emily & Cathy:
There’s always something!

Cathy:

The BART Station right by the venue was down. We created a bus bridge to another BART station. We found out like that morning at the festival.

Emily:

One year we arrived at one of our venues and the night before they had painted a wall like right outside the entrance to our auditorium. So the fumes were going to be a serious problem for anyone with chemical sensitivity. We’re like, alright great let’s figure it out. We’re going to get some fans in here. We’re going to reroute and everyone’s going to enter through the back.

We’ve been giving advice to some of the other film festivals not just disability film festivals but film festivals period with how to do online programming. I think that’s a great example of like when you’re in the disability community you’re used to things not being made for you because of ableism. That gives you this adaptability and flexibility and like our festival has that spirit.

TR:

The Superfest Film Festival will take place on October 17 & 18, 2020.

With 15 films all falling within the range that Superfest aims to include.

Emily:

Different disabilities featured, a mixture of documentaries that look at some of the honest hardships of life with a disability and others that are light and hilarious and really get at some of the funniest moments insider humor inside the disability community. A lot of really incredible artistic films that explore the beauty that comes with disabled bodies and disabled dance movement.

TR:

This year’s set of films consist of 14 short and 1 feature film.

Emily:

Called God Given Talent that explores a local Oakland based artist who’s Black and Blind. Really looking forward to sharing that more local story.

TR:

And yes, you are going to hear more about that particular artist in an upcoming episode right here on the podcast.
*

For more on the films included in this year’s Superfest lineup visit SuperfestFilm.com.
You can learn more about the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at LongmoreInstitute.sfsu.edu
They’re on Twitter @LongmoreInst and Facebook Facebook.com/SFSUDisability.
Or, just check out this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

Superfest sounds like much more than a film festival. In fact, I see it as a resource for those adjusting to blindness.

Chances are those new to blindness or disability in general haven’t spent much time critically thinking about disability. Being new to the experience is an opportunity to examine all that’s been accumulating in the sub conscious over the years. The films featured in Superfest encourage us to move our thinking about disability to a conscious level.

Take a look at the list of 10 things defining the 201 films and Superfest. They resemble some of what I’ve been learning along this journey of adjusting to blindness. Like;
* Recognizing the various ways disability intersects with other identities
* Exploring disability as a political and social issue, not just medical
* Seeing ourselves throughout all aspects of society and finding friendships within the community.

In fact, now that I think about it, Superfest sort of reminds me of how I feel about this podcast.

Cathy:

People need to know about this. it’s just such a great opportunity and it’s kind of great that it’s gone under the radar for so many people for so many years but on the other hand it just would be so great to have it be really, really well known. It’s so beloved and people are so excited about it and every year people come and they’re just like woh, we never thought of this. This is so amazing.

TR:

I’m just sayin’!

While I’m looking forward to Superfest being online this year because I personally get to attend, I know there’s no replacement for that in person experience. I look forward to one day being able to participate in person. I get the sense that it could be a similar experience to my first blindness conference. That sense of belonging or community.

Audio: It’s Official…

Cathy Kudlick…
Emily Beitiks…
And Superfest…

Its official! You know you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Come hang out with yours truly and the rest of the cool kids watching some fun, interesting and thought provoking films. Head over to SuperfestFilm.com to check out the lineup and grab your ticket. Don’t forget the snacks and drinks. (You gotta have the snacks and drinks.)

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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