Austin blazes another trail: the Cinema Touching Disability 2004 Film Festival
By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 21, 2004
Children of a Better God Dept.: When Tod Browning's Freaks was first released back in 1932, the MGM production caused such a stir that it was only sporadically shown often as part of exploitation double bills until a triumphant screening at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival finally brought it the recognition that had so long eluded it. This melodramatic, proto-noir tale of circus sideshow performers among them the legless Johnny Eck, midget Harry Earles, and conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton packs as visceral a punch today as it did back when Irving Thalberg gave Dracula director Browning the green light, and remains one of the most remarkable features (and at 64 minutes, barely that) to ever come out of MGM, or anywhere else, for that matter. All of this is to note that Browning's film will be screened this Saturday, May 22, 10:45pm, at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex (1156 Hargrave St.) as part of the Cinema Touching Disability 2004 Film Festival, presented by and benefiting the Coalition of Texans With Disabilities. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time there's been a disability film festival in Texas," notes festival Artistic Director Dennis Borel. "The idea was something that had been kicked around the coalition as a means to raise public awareness. Cinema mirrors society attitudes, and this is a great way to show films going as far back as 1898 through today." The 1898 film Borel refers to is the rarely seen Thomas Edison 50-second micro-short "The Fake Beggar" (widely seen as the first representation of disability in a movie), which will be followed by Freaks, the Oscar-winning Children of a Lesser God, and Shattering Stereotypes on Mt. Everest, a 2003 documentary on one-armed mountaineer Gary Guller's summiting of the 29,035-foot peak. In addition to the films, featured speakers will include Guller, city of Austin ADA coordinator Dolores Gonzalez, Advocacy Inc. Executive Director Mary Faithfull, UT American Studies Chair Janet Davis, and Austin director Tim McCanlies. "What you're going to see is a progression," says Borel. "Back in Freaks, one of the few options for employment of people with disabilities was to put themselves on display in a carnival sideshow. But then you go up to the Eighties and you see what is basically a love story, with Children of a Lesser God, set in a school for the deaf with a lead actress Marlee Matlin who is actually deaf in real life. And then you fast forward to 2004 and see a documentary of a cross-disability team making history on Mount Everest, and you see that people are moving from the carnival sideshow into inclusion in all of human endeavor." For more info on the one-night festival, including screening times, admission, and venue, go to www.ctdfilmfest.org.