Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival

20th annual Cinema Touching Disability FIlm Festival, October 20-21, 2023, 6:30 - 10 pm, Rollins Theater

The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival and Short Film Competition aims to change the picture of disability through film. The top cinematic celebration of disability in the state, the Festival features the work of independent filmmakers from around the world, from documentaries to animated shorts to the avant-garde. The two-day event provides a unique and entertaining way to positively and accurately view disability.

2023 Festival Wrap-up

2023 was a big milestone for Cinema Touching Disability, as we celebrated our 20th year! October 20th and 21st, we held the Festival at a new venue: the Rollins Theater at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. We had a great time watching movies and hanging out in this beautiful, new-to-us space!

Each night, attendees enjoyed ambient music by Gretchen McMahon (Celtic harp) in the lobby and Devin Gutierrez (keyboard) in the theater. Both are local musicians with disabilities!

Three smiling people surround a small harp. A woman in the center puts her hand on the shoulder of a young man with a white cane. Her other hand is on the shoulder of a young seated woman with her hands at the harpstrings.
Devin and Gretchen (center) with audience member (and fellow musician!) Mary Rose Bushland. Photo by Patty Bushland.

On the screen, we brought 13 winning and selected short films from our international Short Film Competition. These documentaries and narrative shorts examined and portrayed people with disabilities living both ordinary (Doc West Moves, As You Are, Culicidae) and extraordinary (Last Seen: Katie Kelly, Rad Scientist) lives. Check out this year's full line up.

Take Me Home, first place winner and audience favorite of our non-documentary division, delicately looks at the moments when a cognitively disabled woman and her estranged sister must learn to communicate after their mother's death. This film has been making a splash worldwide, and we’re grateful to be part of its momentum!

The quiet and beautifully photographed Carpenter took first place and audience favorite in the documentary division. This selection from Iran shows how an old Kurdish man uses his carpentry skills to make custom prosthetic legs, from choosing a tree limb to adjusting and fitting the finished piece. View the 2023 Short Film Competition results.

Movie poster. Close up of a young woman seated in front of a plate of food and glass of water. She looks to one side with a concerned expression and hovers both hands above her table setting. The text Take Me Home appears in white text running down one side of the image, while smaller text with film credits is on the other side.      Movie poster. Sepia photo of an older man in profile, with a mustache and head wrap, gazing into the distance with a preoccupied expression. The image fades into a silhouette of a landscape from far away, with a tree and a small figure walking from it. Arabic lettering appears over the darkest part of the landscape
Movie posters for Take Me Home and Carpenter

We also screened video tributes to members of the CTD family we’ve lost in recent months. Local filmmaker Dave Dauber made two shorts about the vibrant lives and legacies of Gene R. Rodgers and Gloria “Susie” Angel. In recognition of all he has done to advance inclusion and access for people with disabilities through creative work, we honored Dave with the inaugural Gene Rodgers Creative Advocacy Award.

Two men (standing) present a plaque and hold a microphone to a third man (seated). A person's portrait is etched into the plaque.
Dave (seated) accepts the award from CTD Executive Director Dennis Borel (left) and Board President Kenneth Semien. Photo by Mike McDiarmid.

In addition to these screenings, the Festival welcomed a ton of guests from near and far. Mayor Kirk Watson helped us kick off the Festival on Friday with welcome comments and an introduction to another major CTD event (for which he was an advisor): Team Everest ’03.

20 years ago, CTD sent an expedition of trekkers with various disabilities to Mt. Everest. To celebrate this anniversary, we screened a short documentary about the expedition, Team Everest 03: Shattering Stereotypes on Mt. Everest. Director Andy Cockrum joined us afterwards to reflect on the experience of filming the expedition and tell a few stories.

Later that night, we were thrilled to welcome Leo Bopp, star of selected short Deaf Capo, to share about his experience becoming a Capo (leader) for the fans in the supporters’ section at Austin FC games. Through his leadership, ASL and LSM (Mexican sign language) are becoming an integral part of Austin FC fan culture. Leo brought some of his Austin FC passion to the Festival, and led the audience some spoken-signed chants!

A man in a green and black hat, scarf, and jacket holds his hands out in front of him, blurred in motion.
Leo teaches the audience the signs for some Austin FC chants. Photo by Mike McDiarmid.

Saturday night, the Texas Film Commission honored Cinema Touching Disability with a proclamation celebrating 20 years.

Directors Cory Reeder (Smash or Pass, 3rd place winner, non-documentary) and Cameron S. Mitchell (Elsa, 2nd place winner, documentary) traveled to Austin from out of state, to present their films, take audience questions, and make some new friends! It was a real treat to welcome these incredible filmmakers into our community!

Two men stand in front of a microphone, in conversation.
Dennis Borel starts the Q&A with Cameron S. Mitchell. Photo by Mike McDiarmid.

We closed the Festival with a toast to 20 years of Cinema Touching Disability, with sparkling cider and cake, reconnecting with friends, laughs, and very warm feelings!    

A group of people in a dimly lit theater pose for a photo.    Two men in wheelchairs look at each other laughing   

A man with a walker talks and gestures to a man sitting next to him.
From left: audience member Toby Al-Trabulsi, long-time sponsor and audience member Dallas Webster, Dennis Borel, and access provider Celia Hughes; CTD’s Chase Bearden and Juan Munoz; long-time Film Fest judge Dr. Lawrence Becker and visiting director Cory Reeder. Photos by Mike McDiarmid.

Thank you for a great Fest—and 20 years—to our sponsors, volunteers, audience, guests, and short film competition judges; we’ll see y'all in 2024!

About Cinema Touching Disability

Praised by the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, the Austin Mayor's Committee on People with Disabilities, the Texas Film Commission, and the Austin Film Society, Cinema Touching Disability is informative and refreshing for all audiences. The Festival provides audiences with the opportunity to enjoy films that can’t otherwise be seen on the big screen. With free admission (the $10 ticket fee will be reimbursed at the doorl), we offer unique evenings with wrap-around experiences inspired by the films, like live entertainment, art, and conversations.

Stay in touch! Get the latest all year through Cinema Touching Disability News, our free e-newsletter, with exclusive interviews and insightful analysis of recent popular film releases from a disability perspective. For updates about this year's program, featured guests, the short film competition, and more Festival highlights, follow us on Facebook - Twitter - Instagram.

The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival is a program of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. One in five Texans has a disability, and CTD works to ensure that we may work, live, learn, play and participate fully in the communities of our choice. CTD’s statewide priorities include independent living, attendant wages and other services, civil rights, employment, and access to healthcare and medications. Get involved!

Learn more about the history of the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival and Short Film Competition.


The 2023 film lineup:

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