NYWIFT Talks: ReelAbilities Film Festival

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Download the transcript of the program here, or watch the ASL signed version here


Welcome to NYWIFT Talks, a weekly series to bring updated news and vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on the media and entertainment industry. Industry professionals will be in conversation discussing what you need to know about theatrical releases, digital advances, virtual tools, festival opportunities, production updates and more. 

NYWIFT Talks are free for all to attend.

On this week’s NYWIFT Talks with ReelAbilities Director and Co-Founder Isaac Zablocki, Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word, and filmmaker, Lisa Denker, we discuss the changes that ReelAbilities has instituted for the Disabled Community and what progress still needs to be made. We explore the ways movie theaters need to re-structure to accommodate ADA laws, how filmmakers are paving their way to Hollywood with their original stories, and what ReelAbilities offers for disabled filmmakers. 

This conversation will be moderated by Executive Director at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Rachel Byrne.

Founded in 2007 by the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, ReelAbilities Film Festival: New York is the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. The weeklong festival is renowned for its wide-ranging international film selection, riveting conversations, and performances, presented annually in dozens of venues across the New York metropolitan area. Learn more.

Woman of Her Word was the first to initiate and fund British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) scholarships for graduate film students with disabilities, originate and fund annual finishing film accessibility grants for NYWIFT and WIF LA as well as fund assistive audience technology. Michele Spitz most recently produced and narrated the audio description for the 41st Media Access Awards ceremony making the virtual event platform equally accessible to visually impaired audiences. Michele’s forthcoming endeavors will include designing media accessibility impact campaign fellowships.

Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2021 
Time: 4:00pm EST
Location: Zoom (Links can be found in confirmation email)
Cost to attend: Free



Isaac Zablocki is the Director of film programs at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan , and the Director and Co-Founder of ReelAbilities: NY Disabilities Film Festival. He attended film school at Columbia University and went on to work at Miramax Films. Previously, he produced and directed feature films and developed film educational programs for the Board of Education. Since 2004, Isaac has been developing film programs at the JCC including The Israel Film Center. Beyond ReelAbilities, he programs multiple film festivals annually including the acclaimed Other Israel Film Festival about Arab and minority populations in Israel.

Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word is a voiceover artist, public speaker, philanthropist, and influencer most passionate about advocating for media accessibility and disability awareness. Michele is dedicated to selectively funding audio description post production accessibility grants to ensure that media content is equally accessible to low vision and blind audiences. She has 7.5 years experience of producing, narrating, consulting, and project managing audio description assets for over 80 projects including film, broadcast and digital media. Michele promotes media accessibility awareness and audience inclusion through ongoing public speaking engagements. She is committed to working closely with film clients to enlist their participation in advocating and promoting their film production’s accessibility assets and advise on implementing and incorporating audio description deliverables throughout distribution and exhibition platforms for the shelf life of the film. Among creating audio description for many film genres and various subjects, Michele is a member of NYWIFT instating audio description grants for their annual disability film finishing fund and is also aligned with ReelAbilities, funding audio description film assets for their annual film festivals.

Lisa Denker grew up in a family of artists and designers, innately developing her visual skills. She studied film-making at L.A City College and later at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. Working as an Art Director and Set Decorator in the L.A film industry, she worked on features and productions such as: Gas, Food and Lodging (Dir. Alison Anders); the Grammy Award winning Ain’t It Heavy music video for Melissa Etheridge, and was the Set Decorator for the film Citizen Ruth (Dir. Alexander Payne). She also worked on union films such as Warner Brothers Batman Returns (Dir. Tim Burton).
Following her move to the Bay Area, Lisa Denker’s Heart of the Sea /Kapolioka’ehukai 2003, a one hour portrait of Hawaiian legend Rell Sunn, was broadcast nationally on PBS’s The Independent Lens, as well as Broadcast internationally. The film has garnered many awards, including PBS’s Independent Lens Audience Award 2003, the Audience Award Best Documentary Feature at the San Francisco International Film Festival 2003, the Audience Award at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Aloha Spirit Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival 2002 and Best Documentary Award at the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
Lisa is also the winner of the 2020 NYWIFT Loreen Arbus Disability Award grant for her film, Still Judy.


Rachel Byrne (moderator) is the Executive Director at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation. She has been working in the field of pediatric rehabilitation and cerebral palsy research for the past 14 years. Rachel has a background in physical therapy, with a particular interest in neuroplasticity and motor learning. Her early career as a clinician delivering physical therapy services in schools, hospitals and private practice is underpinned by her research interests focused on knowledge translation and the impact on a person’s ability to participate in the community across the lifespan. At the Foundation, she has continued her research interest in evidence-based practice, knowledge translation, early detection and interventions across the lifespan and population studies for cerebral palsy. Rachel was instrumental in developing the Just Say Hi inclusion curriculum which is now being taught nationally. In the last 12 years she has given multiple presentations at international conferences and managed large multisite research projects.


This NYWIFT Talks is brought to you by Tito’s Handmade Vodka

April 14 @ 4:00pm
4:00 pm — 5:00 pm (1h)

This program will take place virtually as a webinar via Zoom. Please register in advance, and all registrants will receive a link to attend the webinar the day of the event.

We encourage you to download Zoom in advance.

Free event.



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#nywift | @nywift

NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.