RespectAbility will have a heavy presence at Sundance this year, with a lineup of virtual panels and discussions, all on digital Main Street.
The disability advocacy group is presenting five conversations under the umbrella title the Accessibility & Inclusion Lab; two of the events are in collaboration with Film Independent.
A goal is to encourage authentic representation of disabled people on screen, and to help change how audiences view people with disabilities. Another goal is to give filmmakers the tools to make films more accessible, both for disabled crew members and for audiences.
According to Nielsen, the disability market influences more than a trillion dollars in disposable income. However, with one-in-five people in the U.S. having a disability, there is a startling lack of representation – just 2.3% of characters in the 100 top-grossing films of 2019 and 8% in family films.
“What we see and hear on screen influences how we act in real life,” says RespectAbility’s VP Lauren Appelbaum, who leads the nonprofit’s work in the entertainment industry. “The entertainment industry has an opportunity to help remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities. Including disabled filmmakers will help ensure more authentic disability representation on camera, which goes a long way in educating viewers.
The festival will take place from Jan. 28–Feb. 3 online as well as in several satellite sites.
The sessions are:
The Accessibility of Filmmaking (Jan. 29, 1 p.m. PT)
Moderator: Tatiana Lee
Panelists: Shireen Alihaji (Blue Veil Films), Nasreen Alkhateeb (All Media Storytelling), Andrew Pilkington and Leah Romond (“Best Summer Ever”), Joey Travolta (Inclusion Films) and Jevon Whetter (“Flash Before the Bang”)
This is in collaboration with Film Independent, and will address the filmmaking process, from hiring and casting disabled talent, making film sets accessible and ensuring that the film itself is accessible.
Conversations Through the Lens: A 360 View of Disability on Set (Jan. 30, Time TBD)
Panelists: Nasreen Alkhateeb, Andrew Reid (“Asia A”), Alice Austen (producer of “Give Me Liberty”)
The panel, also in collaboration with Film Independent, will provide insight into what it’s like to be a filmmaker with a disability and what it takes to improve the Hollywood environment and culture.
“Bridging the Gap” – Media Accessibility & Audio Description. (Jan. 31, 11:30 am PT)
Moderator: Michele Spitz (Woman of Her Word)
Panelists: Ashley Eakin (writer-director, “Single”), Alice Elliott (“The Collector of Bedford Street”), Liz Gutman (International Digital Center), Alexander Howard (audio description advocate), Allyson Johnson (voice actor) and Justin Smith (manager, post-production, IFC Films/AMC Networks)
The session will look at the creativity and impact of audio descriptions to accommodate blind and low-vision audiences, as well as the language of captions for deaf and hard of hearing audiences.
The Nuts & Bolts of Producing Deaf Content & Working with Deaf Talent (Jan. 31, 1:30 p.m. PT)
Host: Delbert Whetter (Exodus Film Group)
Moderator: Jevon Whetter
Panelists: CJ Jones (“Avatar 2,” “Baby Driver”), Troy Kotsur (“CODA”), Anne Tomasetti (ASL dialogue coach, “CODA”)
The session focuses on producing authentic deaf content and working with deaf talent. Topics include communication strategies, producing tips, terminology and how to make your filmmaking as inclusive as possible. This session will immediately follow “Bridging the Gap”
Mentorships Matter (Feb. 1, 1 p.m. PT)
Moderator: Tatiana Lee
Panelists: Cheryl Bedford (Women of Color Unite), Manon De Reeper (Women of Color Unite), Thuc Nguyen (Bitch Pack), Ava Rigelhaupt (RespectAbility Lab Alumna and #Startwith8Hollywood mentee)
Women of color with disabilities will discuss why mentorships are key to the success of individuals from multiple-marginalized backgrounds.