Super Heroes

There’s a new kid on the block when it comes to film festivals, and this one does more than entertain. Abilities Unlimited kicked off its film fest last year to get people thinking about those with disabilities and including them in any discussion about community. Last year’s program was a packed-to-standing-room-only success, and AU is ready for round two.

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Last year's winning entry ‘Dawna' paired filmmaker Gabe Cabagbag with Dawna Zane (pictured here), who lives an active life despite sustaining debilitating injuries after a car accident PHOTO COURTESY OF ABILITIES UNLIMITED

“Last year it ended up being much bigger than we expected,” says Scott Nishimoto, the organization’s vice president of work-force development and community relations. “We thought if we could hit a crowd of 220 without doing too much outreach, we’re confident we can do much more this year.”

Ward Stadium theater donated the use of its 490-seat auditorium for this year’s fest. Six short films will be screened and a panel of judges will choose a winner. To get a feel for the caliber of film being shown, visit Facebook and type in AUFF (Abilities Unlimited Film Festival), where you’ll see a link to last year’s winner, Dawna by Gabe Cabagbag. It features Dawna Zane, who suffered critical injuries after a car accident. Her story easily could leave viewers feeling like they just swallowed a ton of bricks, but Zane’s smiling “go for it” demeanor and Cabagbag’s storytelling instead make the viewer feel energized. That’s what AU is all about.

AU offers state-funded services to people with disabilities to help them integrate with the community, and creating a film festival is a way to get even broader support in terms of job opportunities and social activities. The inaugural festival resulted in phone calls from employers and community organizations asking how they could help — the exact response Nishimoto was hoping for.

“I always had a desire to work with disadvantaged populations,” notes Nishimoto, who started working for AU part time while in law school and came on board full time more than two years ago. “I don’t have a disability and I’m not in poverty, so I see it as my duty to help those who are.”

An encounter with Pono Shim, economic development and social wellness innovator, who champions the power of storytelling to inspire and revitalize, gave Nishimoto that eureka moment.

“Pono told me that I need to tell a story and people will listen,” says Nishimoto. “If we can capture these stories on film, they become that much more powerful.”

To get those stories on film, AU randomly paired subjects with volunteer filmmakers. Public relations whiz Mona Wood-Sword also volunteered her tools and expertise to get the festival off the ground and helped gather filmmakers, most coming from UH Academy for Creative Media. As for subjects, the films highlight a diverse range of males and females of various ages with developmental or acquired disabilities.

“The filmmaker helps us connect to each individual,” says Nishimoto. “It’s hard to relate to people with disabilities when we don’t have a disability. Getting that first-person point of view made me see: Someday I could get into a car accident or have a stroke, and how would I want society to treat me after that happens?

“What can the audience expect this year? Our goal is to give our subjects a voice and visibility so that they can no longer be ignored or cast off as incapable or less than equal. The audience can expect stories of people who wouldn’t typically be featured. None of them would be seen as extraordinary in Hollywood’s eyes, but they are extraordinary to me, and I feel they should be seen as extraordinary by everyone, because these are individuals who have had to endure much more than a typical person has ever gone through.

“The audience can expect to be inspired, they can expect to be motivated and they can expect to enjoy, because in the end … it’s a movie night.”

the TICKET stub
ABILITIES UNLIMITED FILM FEST
When: 6:30 p.m., April 22
Where: Consolidated Theatres Ward Stadium
Cost: $10 presale, $12 at the door
More Info: 532-2119, snishimoto@abilitiesunlimitedhi.org, abilitiesunlimitedhi.org

ALSO SHOWING

If you want to know what it means when people say, “It’s an experience,” bring your keiki to Honolulu Theatre for Youth’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (through May 9; 839-9885, htyweb.org). HTY has been pumping out thoroughly researched and well-constructed culturally inspired children’s tales, like its K-pop A Korean Cinderella or Indian beat-filled A Bollywood Robin Hood. Now there’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a Chinese fairy tale directed by Eric Johnson. The mainstay onstage trio Alvin Chan, Maile Holck and Junior Tesoro are joined by Christina Uyeno and Matthew Mazzella, along with puppets and cutting-edge video projections that transform Tenney Theatre into a magical realm. When the show concludes, you feel as if you’re awaking from some Puck-inspired dreamland.

Young Minli leaves her parents in their simple countryside cottage to seek out a change in fortune for her impoverished family. In Arabian Nights-style stories-within-a-story, she meets a dragon, a dangerous tiger, a moon man and other captivating characters, each constituting a little pearl of a story unto itself. An army of puppets materialize here and there ― stick puppets, shadow puppets, mini puppets, a life-size puppet, a giant mask-puppet, hand puppets ― creatively used and designed by Chesley Cannon. The multilayered projections by Adam Larsen are a character all their own, conjuring up a solemn forest one second and a bustling city the next. You never know what fantasy-scape will appear and with stage parts moving, screens rising and falling, people and puppets popping up from every angle, it’s amazing to see only five actors standing on the stage for the final bow, rather than 20. Moon best stokes the imagination of audiences ages 5 and up.