Thank you, William Greer

3.5 minute read

A man gazing off camera gives a half-smile.After 20 years as the Director of the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival, it’s time to bid farewell to the only person to ever hold the job.

William Greer was a volunteer at CTD when he suggested we attempt a film festival focused on people with disabilities. It was such an intriguing idea that I insisted he organize it. After all, there were other film festivals, even some with a disability theme. CTD had zero experience, of course, but we didn’t see that as a deal breaker. We held that first Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival in 2004. And then again, the next year, and then the next... Many stories followed. Allow me to share a few.


A man stands in front of a large red, black, and white Cinema Touching Disability Fim Festival banner.Before our initial Film Fest in 2004 (right: William with early CTDFF signage), William spent a lot of time researching disability cinema. In literature, he found references to the first representation of disability on film, in 1898. When film was a new medium, audiences would gather in makeshift theaters to view this astounding technological innovation. Among those very early films was a short, silent and untitled, that featured a person with a disability. It became known as The Fake Beggar. We had never heard of it, but we knew of the filmmaker, the inventor of the motion picture camera, Thomas Edison. Unable to find The Fake Beggar anywhere, William reached out to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit (Ford had been a friend of Edison), which housed the massive collection of the auto pioneer. No luck there, but a museum staffer agreed to work with William and press on. Finally, the pair located a copy of The Fake Beggar in the Library of Congress. We screened it at our 2004 Film Festival, its first viewing in over 100 years.


A grinning William holds up his arms to flex his biceps. He's wearing a green running shirt and arm band that holds his phone.Some know that William is an accomplished distance runner (right: heading out for the 2022 ADAPT Fun*Run for Disability Rights). He dreamed of running in the Boston Marathon, the pinnacle of American distance events. William qualified for the event 2013 and was off to Boston with his wife Ellen. He met his sighted guide Peter Sagal, the popular host of NPR’s quiz show Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Peter’s role was to run all 26.2 miles with William, alerting him to potholes, tripping hazards, low limbs, and whatever else could knock William off his stride. That year, though, the finish line exploded, in a domestic terrorist attack, the Boston Marathon Bombing. Peter has since recounted that day in the magazine Runner’s World and his book, The Incomplete Book of Running:

"It only occurred to me, much later, as I viewed online videos of the bombing, how important William's gutsy last mile really was. We crossed the line at 4:04. The bomb went off as the clock read 4:09. Five minutes later. Which might well have been the five minutes that William would have needed to walk that last miserable mile, had he given in to the urgings of his hip, gut, and mind. But he ran the bravest and toughest mile of his life… by doing so, he crossed the line alive… I was as proud of him as I've been of anyone I've ever known, and happier with this marathon – my slowest – then any other I've ever run."

William and Peter’s remarkable story was also a feature report by Matt Largey on Austin’s KUT-FM, garnering a national Edward R. Murrow Award for Sports Reporting.

Unsurprisingly, William and Ellen made a 9-minute film with their perspective of that day, called 26.2: Austin to Boston. It screened at Cinema Touching Disability that year, and you can still see it on YouTube.


From The Fake Beggar to the Boston Marathon and more, William has played a central role at CTD. Under his leadership, Cinema Touching Disability went from an idea to an award-winning, internationally recognized staple in Austin’s film scene. He is now moving on to the next chapter in his career, and we wish him the best. We will continue to host Cinema Touching Disability, honoring the immense groundwork William has laid to elevate and celebrate the work of people with disabilities on film.

Dennis Borel
CTD Executive Director
January 4, 2024