MY LIFE MAGAZINE – SUMMER 2022
tt stern-enzi, Artistic Director, Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival
HOW DO YOU PICK THE FILMS?
We have a two-pronged approach. We, along with the majority of festivals around the country, use FilmFreeway as a portal for filmmakers to submit their films for consideration during our 3–4-month open period.
We also use curation, where we attend larger festivals like Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and others to scout titles and engage with filmmakers or their representatives. I also leverage my years of experience and connections as a film critic to see if we can find a breaking title that fits a gap in our festival slate.
WHAT OTHER ACTIVITIES ARE PART OF THE OTR FILM FESTIVAL?
This year we are creating more events and opportunities for people to come together and celebrate. We have spent the last two years isolated from and missing each other, so our opening night party and film, “Poppy,” will celebrate the resilience and independence of the disability community. We also collaborate, partner and connect with restaurants, bars, retail businesses and arts organizations in the community to celebrate and uplift OTR.
Screening films is just the beginning of creating valuable audience experiences. The aim is to not just find unique titles that can start conversations, but then bring in filmmakers, actors and content experts to enrich audience engagement. We also attempt to connect regional audiences with the local film community – either with filmmakers or opportunities to discover how they can get involved in film production.
WHY DID THE NAME CHANGE FROM REELABILITIES?
The rebranding from ReelAbilities Cincinnati was more than a name change. Cincinnati was the home for the national ReelAbilities organization, and the intention was to create a festival focused on disability that could be replicated in other cities, which is what happened. Close to two dozen cities in North America now host ReelAbilities festivals with a network of films and filmmakers.
By 2017, LADD understood that the audience who attended ReelAbilities was primarily people who already had a connection to disability. LADD decided to launch a new festival that expanded the scope of the festival, with the goal of incorporating disability into larger conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion and to drive a community response around disability. As a film critic eager to branch out, I was thrilled to sign on as a programmer in 2018. As a critic of color, I embraced the chance to shift from discussing film to curating conversations about the social and cultural landscape.
WHICH FILM ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT THIS YEAR?
I’m excited that this year we will spotlight some homegrown talent. We’re closing this year’s festival with “Never Better” from Julianne Fox, a Walnut Hills High School graduate who has a unique generational perspective on quarantine life while dealing with Cystic Fibrosis. I believe attendees will look back one day and say, ‘I remember seeing her debut narrative feature at the OTR Film Festival.’
With 50 films to choose from, there’s something for everyone. If you’re wandering around OTR July 7-10 and can’t figure out what to see, feel free to stop me and ask. I’ll do my best to steer you in the right direction!
WHY IS REPRESENTATION IN FILM AND MEDIA SO IMPORTANT?
As a Black man who has written and talked about film for over 20 years and been a fan of the form for over 50 years, I have also struggled with the notion that I haven’t always seen reflections of myself or my experiences onscreen. Over the years, I had to exercise creative and critical muscles to insert myself into narratives where not only did Black faces not exist, but where the Black experience could not easily and snuggly fit to allow those stories to reach the same satisfying conclusions. LADD’s vision for the OTR Film Festival is to create a space to tell the stories that don’t get told; ensuring that people with disabilities are leading a call for more inclusive film and media where everyone is afforded the opportunity to see reflections of themselves.
Film festivals have an obligation to align themselves with current movements, which is why our shift from ReelAbilities is so important to our team. My work as Artistic Director of the OTR Film Festival takes me back to my days in Philadelphia, long before I began covering film, when I was just a fan who would buy a festival pass and study the schedule looking for films that sparked my interest. I want folks here in Cincinnati to feel that same anticipation and not only find reflective experiences, but maybe a title or two that will expose them to a reality different from their own, that still speaks to a sense of shared humanity.
The Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival, presented by LADD, is the premier diversity film festival in the United States led by the disability community. Set to return July 7-10, 2022, the festival will showcase stories that celebrate the human spirit by providing a platform for audiences to see through another’s eyes.
tt stern-enzi is a writer and film critic in the Greater Cincinnati area with over 20 years of experience in the industry. tt stern-enzi earned the honorable title of accredited critic on Rotten Tomatoes and is a member of the Critic’s Choice Association. In addition to his role as Artistic Director for the OTR Film Festival, tt serves as a member on the Board of Directors for the Film Festival Alliance.
Guided by the belief that every person has ability and value, LADD empowers adults with developmental disabilities to live, work, and connect. Founded in 1975, the Cincinnati non-profit now supports over 650 adults experiencing disabilities through housing, employment and meaningful community engagement programs.