Film and performance are powerful societal tools that invite communities to become more connected, more accepting, and more compassionate.
The second annual Martha’s Vineyard Disability Festival aims to achieve these goals by bringing folks of all ages and abilities together for a positive and enjoyable experience centered around a love for great film.
Jenna Robichau, education director at Circuit Arts, said the Disability Festival is a collaborative project between all the Island’s disability advocacy organizations, headed up by the MVFF. At first, Robichau connected with the coordinator for the Island Disability Coalition (IDC), Beth Wike. The two jumped on a call when Wike mentioned her long-held dream of putting on a film festival that promotes inclusivity and embraces the Island’s disability community.
“I was like, ‘We can do that.’ So we got together with all the other organizations: the YMCA, the IDC, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Camp Jabberwocky, the Island Autism Group (IAG), and the Vineyard Independence Partnership (VIP),” Robichau said. The groups met regularly to figure out what the messaging should be, what movies should be included in the festival, and how organizers could make the entire event as accessible as possible for people of all abilities.
Last year, the film festival screened two documentaries and one narrative musical, and the feedback they got from members of the community was that some wanted to see more family-friendly narratives. “Documentaries are great, but it’s a hard sell for people to come and sit with their whole family,” Robichau said. Additionally, Robichau noted, Island disabilities advocates wanted more say in the movies that were chosen. This time around, Robichau worked with J.P. Hitesman of VIP and the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, along with Kate DeVane, who heads up IAG, to choose the films.
The festival kicks off this year on Wednesday, July 20, with a unique Cinema Circus event for kids at the Grange in West Tisbury, from 4 to 6 pm. Two teaching artists from a fully inclusive performance troupe called Omnium Circus will be at the Grange in West Tisbury to do a short, live circus show, then everyone will head upstairs to the second floor to watch a few short films. For each film, the group will discuss the content and major themes following the screening. “How did it make them feel? What did they expect? How were they surprised?” Robichau said.
Robichau was elated that she was able to bring Omnium into the mix, and said the work they do is as socially important as it is wildly awe-inspiring. “Not only are they an incredible circus group that does the most amazing performances, but it’s the first of its kind to be fully accessible and inclusive in all their shows,” Robichau explained. Anytime Omnium performs, American Sign Language is integrated, and there is always an audio descriptive track available. The troupe’s mission also includes a requirement of inclusivity: that at least 20 percent of their staff — whether administrative or entertainment staff — be people who identify with a disability.
One highlight of Wednesday’s Cinema Circus is a screening of music videos crafted and produced by members of the Voyager and Navigator programs — special education programs offered by Island schools. “This will be an amazing opportunity for those students and the rest of the community to see those films on the big screen with an audience,” Robichau said. “We will show all six music videos.”
Following the fun at the Grange Wednesday is a disability pride party hosted by the Edgartown library at 7 pm. Enjoy a live DJ, along with Chef Chris Look and a member of the disability community preparing dinner for the evening. All of Wednesday’s events are completely free, falling in line with the festival’s goal to create a barrier-free experience for the community.
On Thursday, July 21, the same Omnium teaching artists will host exclusive workshops for the members of Camp Jabberwocky, IDC, IAG, Seven Hills, and Community Services. Then, later that night, the film “Poppy” will be shown at the Film Festival Drive-In at the YMCA at 8:15 pm. “Poppy” is about a young girl with Down syndrome with the ambition to become a mechanic.
The Disability Festival will also be at the drive-in on Friday, July 22, with a 7:15 pm all-ages and all-abilities circus workshop, followed by a screening of a full-length Omnium performance.
For the final day of the event, Saturday, July 23, IAG founder Kate DeVane, explained that Island Autism will host the Disability Fest 5K event that morning, 8:30 to 11 am, at the West Tisbury School. The town is where the group will build its future Island Autism Center on property in Lambert’s Cove. They will hold a car wash at the same time as the 5K. Later Saturday, IAG is hosting a community picnic at the Grange, where they will auction off some IPads, along with other items, including a painted paddle made by a local neon artist. The picnic starts at 5 pm, with some food and light refreshments. It’s recommended that folks bring their own picnic items, however, since many folks have different tastes. After the picnic is a double-feature screening of “My Disability Roadmap,” and “Imperfect,” about a professional company of actors with disabilities putting on the musical “Chicago.” The director of “My Disability Roadmap,” Dan Habib, will do a Q and A with the audience following the showing. The double feature begins at 6 pm at the Grange.
Robichau said she is excited to host some of these events at the drive-in, where the space is accessible and accommodating for those with disabilities. “People can turn their radios up and down depending on their volume needs, and we have the space inside the teen center with accessible bathrooms,” Robichau said, “and also a whole host of sensory objects donated by Community Services, if you need adaptive seating or a hand fidget or anything else, just to make everyone as comfortable as possible.”
For Robichau, disability representation in film allows the powerful stories of people to be brought out into the spotlight, and not have their disability rule the narrative. “These are incredible stories about people that happen to have a disability, and they really illustrate that absolutely anything is possible, no matter your ability,” Robichau said.
For DeVane, disabilities are all about recognizing and embracing the things that make you different, and helping people who are considered “neurotypical” better understand people with disabilities. “That way, everyone is just in a group together, in a community together, and everybody is part of the neighborhood — everyone’s invited,” DeVane said.
According to Wike, the goal of this year’s event for IDC is to draw a bigger and more diverse crowd of ages, backgrounds, and abilities, so that everyone can enjoy the inclusive experience. Wike said she will be working with IDC staff to look at existing clients, along with individuals with disabilities and their families who may not know about all the resources available. “Every organization involved shares a drive and a focus on trying to meet the needs of community members,” Wike said. “We each kind of have our own niche, but there is also a lot of overlap.” An event like the Disability Festival offers the opportunity for organizations like IDC to share information and connect with folks who may not otherwise access support services. Wike noted how rare it is to see community organizations working so seamlessly together to make referrals and connections. “If we have a family coming through something in Community Services and isn’t aware of VIP or Island Autism, we can make that connection and broaden that network of support that the family has,” Wike said. “Even though we are a small community, people don’t know about a lot of these services. Anything we can do to spread the word, it helps with every mission’s organization.”
With July being Disability Pride Month, Wike said, the festival aims to encourage disability representation in books, film, and other forms of entertainment and media. She said she wants more attention to be paid toward integrating the disability community in every opportunity on Martha’s Vineyard, and hopes that the Disability Festival can be a recurring annual event.
“Similarly to how communities engage other causes or other pride months related to inclusivity and diversity, I would like this to be on everyone’s calendar — something that everyone looks forward to,” Wike said. “We all want a more inclusive Martha’s Vineyard, and the only way to get there is to really open people’s minds and their perspectives through education and experience — that’s how you get people on board.”
Head to tmvff.org/disabilityfestival for more information, to purchase tickets, or to see the film schedule.