Monday, October 7, 2013

ReelAbilities Columbus 2013:

ReelAbilities Columbus 2013:

When I went to Reelabilities 2013 this weekend, the first movie I saw was “Aphasia”, in the McConnell Arts Center. It’s an American film (2011) about Carl McIntyre, an actor and salesman who has a stroke, and suffers from aphasia, the inability to read, write, or understand spoken language. The film follows his year and a half trying to regain these skills. It’s a very comedic film, but not without it’s touching moments, such as when Carl first suffers the stroke, his kids jump on him and his wife yells at him to get up and stop messing around.
Also, the film shows Carl’s frustration of having to learn words again. Oddly, the first words he seems to learn quickly are curse words, which is sometimes played for comedic effect. (They must be stored in a different part of the brain…or linked to his frustration.) Such as when he goes to a fast food joint and tries to order a “Frozee”, but ends up seeming to order…something else! He also has trouble distinguishing between yes and no at first, which means he ends up with much larger orders sometimes and says yes when he means no.

    In his therapy,  he begins to show “cognitive flexibility” which is why he can relearn words by getting around to them in his brain. For example to say “when” Carl at first has to say “Chicken” which surprises his therapist. “Chicken?” she asks. Then, Carl says “Chicken! Eggs! Hen! Www-when!” The surprising thing for me was how much I empathized with Carl’s aphasia. Having learnt another language (And sometimes having difficulty with my own…but haven‘t we all had those?), it’s frustrating when you can’t convey what you want, and embarrassing when you say something completely different.

     This is a short film, 40 minutes long, that embraces the entire gambit of human emotions, and the human struggle to adapt to worlds which we don’t understand. Ultimately, Carl realizes when he’s watching himself on TV that: “There are two mes. The then and the now. And the now me is the only version of me this little boy [his son] will ever know.” And spoiler alert: He does finally get that Frozee!

   This is a great film for anyone who has struggled to communicate. Or likes to laugh. Funny story: as I came into the theater, people there must’ve thought I was with the Dancing Wheels, a disabled dance group that was there earlier that evening. They showed me into the theater, and then I got on this big metal lift, and I almost ended up on stage. I didn’t know! I thought it was just really good handicapped seating! But, then I told them I wasn’t a dancer, and they took me back down into the audience. Communication breakdown even between non-aphasiacs!

     The second day was when I saw “Renn Wenn Du Kannst” and “Yo Tambien” in the Wexner Center. These were the two films I’d planned to see originally. “Yo Tambien” (Me too.) is about a man called Daniel with Down Syndrome who falls in love with his able-bodied coworker Laura in Seville’s Department of Disability Services. Daniel is wonderfully arrticulate, and discusses philosophy, and art, and his disability with her. Laura is more of a “wild child” who has a dislike for rules, and is new in town, so Daniel is her first connection.

     However, just as Daniel is Laura’s first connection as a friend, Laura is taught how to love again by Daniel’s example. There are hints that Laura was abused as a child, and is estranged by her family. Likewise, Daniel’s mother can be a little to overprotective of him, and thinks he’s somehow being taken advantage of. Daniel also has a friend, Pedro, a dancer, who falls in love with a woman with Down Syndrome in his dance class. This serves to show how the concept of normative relationships doesn’t always function correctly.

    In both cases, it is the able-bodied people who do not approve of the relationships. But, they don’t want or need their approval. In Daniel’s case, people think he’s being bamboozled. In Pedro’s case, people think: He has Down Syndrome, how can he know what love (or sex!) is? These are the kind of presumptions the disability community has to work against! It’s not able-bodied vs. disabled. We need more stories like this that show us that. Also, it did remind me a lot of my trip to Spain, as I suspected it would. The fast, colorful language, the classical architecture and wild countryside, and Daniel’s family was always drinking wine. What a great Spanish presentation of the Independent Living and Disability Rights movements!  

    Now on to Renn Wenn Du Kannst (Run If You Can)! This film is from Germany, and follows Ben, a quadraplegic about to complete his MA (Boy, I’ve been there!) who falls for one of his assistants friends, a woman who plays cello, but has crippling stage fright to where she can only perform solo. Now, here’s what I thought was cool: In the opening scene, Ben in ordering his assistant around and cleaning up his apartment, but the moment his aide leaves, his thesis which he just PRINTED, flies out the window. I nearly cursed at loud as Ben does!

    You see, when Annika (His aide/Ben’s love interest, in a sort of love triangle!) has stage fright, she can run away, as she does many times during performances in the movie. Ben can’t run away from his fear which is that he will no longer be able to maintain relationships after his accident. Indeed, in the course of the movie, Ben kind of laughs off the notion that Annika could possibly love him. But, then of course, she does, but neither find that they can perform sexually under the weight of their traumas.

    Ben’s story is that he was in an auto accident that killed his disabled girlfriend as well as left him quadriplegic. Since then, he has developing a joking attitude (He calls his attendant Christian…Nurse Christiane!) and stays away from people, since he can’t run from his fear. As Ben jokes with Christian: “I was not put on Earth to have sex with women. I was put here to look at their backsides.” I must admit, I often take myself out of the game so to speak, before I even know if I’ll succeed. For many of the same reasons; and the fact that it was in German made it hit home closer for me.

    The film wonderfully juxtaposes the need for order (Classical music; cleaning the apartment; the Master’s thesis.) against fear and non-logical impulses. Though all three in the end remain friends, it is left unclear whether they will go their own separate ways. There is a small scene where Ben’s mom comes to visit, and she starts cleaning and Ben tells her to get out! That to me was pretty powerful, as a cultural analyst. This is Ben’s territory! Only he and his aides can order it!

     And hey, as a non-native German-speaker I learned a few new slang words! As usual the European scenery was great…but in a different way than Spain’s. The city of Bottrop, as presented here is large and modern, dominated by high-rises and steel. Actually, Ben climbs the Bottrop Tetrahedron and sits on top of it. Something he told “Christiane” was his “unattainable dream”. A wonderful film dealing with interability relationships…but certainly not as afraid to dive into pain as Yo Tambien. Yo Tambien was more colorful; more Spanish…for lack of a better adjective!

     Afterwards, a speaker read her academic paper on the presence of able-bodied/disabled actors in the media. And even gave some cursory background into the disability rights movement in Germany…by commenting that Germany’s movement is based on “self-determination” (Which she never called by the German Selbstbestimmung.)

   The trouble is, in the USA, it seems to be based on “Independence”. So, whatever differences both movements have based on those words are (to me.) completely rhetorical. I don’t get the difference…but the main argument seemed to be that media presence within the “community” is growing. This year was the opposite of last year’s for me: I came prepared to speak this time, but never quite got the opportunity to ask questions!
   All in all, a good ReelAbilities Festival, with some great intercultural discourse on inter-and-intraability relationships. And I got to see one more film than I originally thought! (“Aphasia”) I’m glad VSA Ohio invited me to take part. Each film dealt with the same issues, more or less. But each had a different cultural lens which with to examine our common humanity through stories about disability! ReelAbilities 2013 was a very fun, and very educational time!


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