DSQ > Summer 2007, Volume 27, No.3

Heard about Greg Walloch's live performance art? His irreverent documentary, F**k the Disabled, was screened at DisTHIS! in October. Want to know the activist side of Helen Keller and discover her avid socialism? She was the feature of the month in January. How about great BBC-produced films that are not released in the States? You guessed it: come on down to the converted firehouse to see two people with very different disabilities fall madly in love in Every Time You look at Me. The actors might very well be sitting next to you.

No matter how long a day of work it has been, I am always excited to cram myself onto the subway at rush hour on the first Wednesday of every month because I know it will be worth it. I take the crowded N train down to Canal Street and head south down streets that have only recently been deserted at the end of the work day. When I arrive at the old firehouse that is now the headquarters of the Downtown Community Television Center, I press the buzzer to be let in. I walk through the bright, cherry red doors and ride the elevator to the third floor. When I step out, I am in an attic-like room with exposed rafters housing a makeshift theatre. There is a bar with wine and sodas and a food spread with items brought. A giant movie screen is suspended on the wall with folding chairs for over fifty people and a nice chunk of space carved out in the front for wheelchairs.

At DisTHIS!, a motley crew of bodies gathers to mingle and introduce themselves before the film begins. Each time I enter, a familiar feeling that I have come for more than just a film rushes over me. This is not the kind of event where individuals with disparate interests file into the room, watch a film and then leave. Rather, there is a connective energy. The DisTHIS! Film Series is a convergence of those with disabilities, people they know, film junkies, their boyfriends and girlfriends. This is not a mainstream theatre experience. Most publicity occurs through word of mouth.

Lawrence Carter-Long, the mastermind behind the DisTHIS! Film Series, takes a seat in front of the crowd at the end of each film. He introduces a special guest and a question and answer session ensues. Sometimes the discussion leads people to share intensely personal stories, other times it spawns forty-five minutes of questions purely on the film, its merits, characters and political implications. On more than one occasion I watched a film and was then able to talk to the person who had just been on screen. This is undoubtedly one of the greatest aspects to an already brilliantly curated series.

Of course there is nothing new about people with disabilities appearing in films. But it is not often that these appearances complicate, inspire and bring emotional and political aspects of being disabled to the forefront of the film. A sampling of features from DisTHIS! is evidence that something avant garde is brewing in New York City. In the old firehouse, cliché depictions of disability are simply out of style.

Not only has Carter-Long assembled an impressive library of films, but the events are more than just films. They also provide a place for people to network and share artistic and political interests. By bringing in people intimately engaged in these films, Carter-Long and DisTHIS! facilitate an element of community insider-ship while simultaneously giving one the grand feeling of being privy to the bigger and broader film world. DisTHIS! adds a crucial aesthetic layer to the social life of disability. It is a generative social force. The films are not just descriptive, but disruptive and it is these points of convergence which spawn new possibilities in both life and art.

DisThis! Film Series
First Wednesday of every month
7pm at DCTV in NYC
www.disthis.org

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Copyright (c) 2007 Laura Mauldin



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