OTR Film Festival celebrates stories of disability community

CINCINNATI — Movies have a unique way of telling stories that encourage people to have deep conversations about difficult topics and sometimes inspire them into action.

What You Need To Know

  • The Over-the-Rhine Film Festival returns in July
  • Now in its fourth year, the event celebrates the stories of members of the disability community
  • The four-day event takes place in venues across OTR
  • Fiims will be available for in-person viewing or online

It’s that mindset that led to the creation of the Cincinnati-based Over-The-Rhine International Film Festival. The annual showcase of independent films made by and celebrating members of the disability community.

This year’s event will take place Thursday, July 7 through Sunday, July 10 at a variety of venues in Over-the-Rhine, a diverse city neighborhood and the reason for the festival’s name.

Now in its fourth year, the OTR Film Festival has a stringent film-screening and selection process that rivals film festivals such as those in Toronto and Cleveland.

One of the highlights of last year’s festival was a special screening of the critically acclaimed CODA, a term that means “child of deaf adults.” At the 94th Academy Awards, the film won all three of its nominations, including best picture.

This year, the selection committee had to choose from more than 100 entries from all over the globe.

On July 7, the narrative feature “Poppy” will open the festival, at 8 p.m. at Art Academy of Cincinnati’s SITE 1212. Created by writer-director Linda Niccol, “Poppy” tells the story of a young woman with Down Syndrome who’s eager to take control of her life by pursuing her dream of becoming a mechanic. 

“Look forward to love, laughs and drama,” said tt stern-enzi, a noted film critic and the festival’s artistic director.

“The breadth and depth of films from such a diverse group of filmmakers is unprecedented,” stern-enzi added. “These films truly represent the five pillars which we base our selection process on: freedom, identity, diversity, disability and faith.” 

From the submission side of programming, the feature documentary “Here. Is. Better.” addresses PTSD among U.S. military veterans. The film allowed them to share their own stories in their own voices. 

“Rez Metal” is a film that spotlights the journey of a Navajo band working on their debut album with the award-winning producer of Metallica. And “Our Baby Knows,” a short film from Cincinnati filmmaker David Chimusoro, finds a young father attempting to explain a harsh reality to his son using personal triumph to soften the blow.

The OTR Film Festival will show films at several other sites, including The Woodward Theater, Harriet Beecher Stowe House and The Freedom Center.

Besides “Poppy”, this year’s slate of films includes “Omoiyari: A Song Film by Kishi Bashi,” a powerful musical odyssey connecting the Muslim ban and the immigration crisis on the United States-Mexico border to the Japanese internment during World War II. 

There’s also “Marvelous and The Black Hole,” a piece from director Kate Tsang that captures the coming-of-age story of a delinquent teen who teams up with a surly children’s magician to navigate a difficult stage of her life.

Other events include a variety of parties throughout the weekend, including an opening night gala.

Considered the premier diversity film festival in the United States led by the disability community, the OTR Film Festival aims to tell stories that “don’t get told.”

A primary goal is to “reframe how people view disability in the entertainment industry’s ongoing discussion of diversity,” according to a release from LADD, which hosts the event. Since 1975, LADD has worked to empower adults with developmental disabilities to live, work, and connect.

Representatives from LADD, the film festival and filmmakers gathered in OTR on May 18 to officially reveal the entire lineup of independent films and events. Among those in attendance was Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, who described the festival as a way to give a voice to those who often go unheard.

“We are extremely fortunate for LADD and the organizers of this powerful showcase of diverse perspectives,” he said “I can’t wait to attend, and I hope Cincinnatians will join me.”

The festival’s founding sponsor is the Saul Schottenstein Foundation B along with leadership support from Procter and Gamble.

A list of films and the schedule are available at otrfilmfest.org. Those interested can buy tickets to watch films in-person or to stream them online.