Exploring the Intersection of Inclusion, Film, and Faith

Exploring the Intersection of Inclusion, Film, and Faith

by Debra Pinger


April Kerley, a world-champion athlete, was born with two arms and one hand. Her left. For a time, she wore a prosthesis on her right, but it felt wooden to her, and not real. As a six year-old celebrating her first communion, she made the sign of the cross with her left hand only to look up to see the priest shaming her for using the wrong hand. Horrified, the now adult marketing professional admits that since that day, she has never felt truly welcome or safe in a Catholic church.

Joe Sherman passionately supported his son’s snowboarding adventures. Adam was one month away from the Olympic trials he was hit by another snowboarder. His severe head injury derailed both his snowboarding career and his bar mitzvah, the Jewish ceremony symbolizing adulthood. He no longer could remember or read Hebrew and his rabbi refused him. Furious, Joe rented a Torah and hall, and gathered family and friends to celebrate his son’s bar mitzvah without a rabbi, and outside the Synagogue.

Lana Olsen regularly brought her friends with developmental disabilities to church where the little group felt parishioners’ discomfort. Undaunted, she and her friends continued to attend and, before long people who had never before brought their children and friends with disabilities, began to do so.

These are three stories of thousands that fuel the passion and challenge the inventiveness of the Interfaith Inclusion Committee of the ReelAbilities Film Festival which is organized by LADD, inc. The group includes: The Rev. Noel Julnes-Dehner, Shilpa Desai, Shabana Ahmed, Bill Kidd, Valarie Walker, Anita Raturi, Kathy Smith, Colleen Gerke, April Kerley, and Caren Theuring. They recognized that disability directly effects 20% of us and cuts across all socio economic groups – it does not discriminate. They looked to faith communities as places where change must be made and as beacons of hope.

They began by asking the questions: What does authentic inclusion look like for each of us as individuals? Is it physical inclusion or does it extend to friendship? If its friendship, how is friendship defined? As sharing a meal? How do we all confront our own discomfort with people who are different from us? And, what is the role of faith in this conversation?

As a first step, the group organized at interfaith breakfast held at the March ReelAbilities Film Festival. Attended by some 150 attendees, it featured opening prayers from Cincinnati’s faith leaders including The Most Reverend Joseph R. Binzer, Catholic Archdiocese, Acharya Kailash Ji, Hindu Temple of Greater Cincinnati, Rabbi Margaret Meyers, President Emeritus of MARCC, Reverend Ennis Tait, Pastor of Church of the Living God, Imam Hossam Musa, Islamic Temple of Greater Cincinnati, and The Reverend Noel Julnes-Dehner, Christ Church Cathedral.

Michigan Supreme Court Judge, Richard Bernstein who was born blind, mesmerized with his story, and Dr. James Buchanan, Director of the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue moderated a very personal discussion with the faith leaders. The event was co-sponsored by Interfaith Cincy.

Boyed by that success, next September, the group will once again inspire with an interfaith breakfast at the newly named and expanded film festival. Named the OTR International Film Festival, the scope now celebrates diversity, disability and difference. It is scheduled for September 26 – 30 in Over-The-Rhine, at SCPA, Music Hall, Shakespeare Theater, Ensemble Theater and Washington Park. Attendance projections for the festival total 50,000.

Through films, music, poetry, dance, the fine arts, and food, the OTRIFF will bring together Cincinnati’s marginalized communities to explore what separates us as well as what unites us in our shared human experience. With these events, the Interfaith Inclusion Committee of OTRIFF is just getting started. If you have an interest exploring the powerful intersection of inclusion, film and faith, please contact Debra Pinger, Managing Director of OTRIFF at dpinger@laddinc.org or 513-487-3939.

OTRIFF is organized by LADD, Inc., a Hamilton County agency  serving nearly 500 adults with developmental disabilities.

Debra Pinger, Managing Director

OTR International Film Festival, Organized by LADD, Inc.