By Evan W. Black, Photos by Charles Engelbert
The seventh annual ReelAbilities Film and Arts festival strives to present positive images of people living with physical or mental disabilities. The free ten-day fest’s events — including a gallery exhibit at the Center for Art and Photography at Celebration Company, and a ReelMusic concert at White Oak Music Hall highlighting musicians with disabilities — promote inclusion and tell moving stories.
Kicking off this year’s lineup is ReelPeople: Up Abilities, held at the A.D. Players’ George Theater on Tuesday night. Here, a trio of inspiring — and in some ways, odds-defying — speakers tell of their experiences living with disabilities: gymnast and aerial performer Jen Bricker, who was born without legs; Eric Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to summit Mount Everest; and Amanda Boxtel, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a skiing accident, but successfully walks using bionic technology.
Boxtel, who was nominated as a CNN Hero of the Year in 2018, hopes to inspire Houstonians not only at Up Abilities, but during her visit with patients at TIRR Memorial Hermann prior to the event. “While my spinal cord injury took away my ability to walk, it didn’t take away my ability to dream and then turn my dreams into my reality one baby step at a time,” she says. “The human life force is phenomenal, mysterious, and resilient. I know this from my own life happenings and those of others. Our indomitable will and spirit have no limitation.”
Boxtel was a dancer and an athlete growing up, and her father committed suicide when she was just 13 years old. “It took time to turn my wounds into wisdom, to remove any self-imposed limitations and to live a richer and fuller life,” she says. “It’s taken 27 years of paralysis for me to understand that acceptance and hope must coexist. I have made it my life’s mission to be in pursuit of the best quality of life possible, while giving back to help others realize their potential.”
She thinks that efforts like ReelAbilities will go a long way in transforming society’s perspective and removing stigma. “The arts have the potential to open doors, change perceptions, and inspire curiosity,” she says. “Through the arts, disability melts away and diversity reigns.”