NYWIFT Announces 2021 Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant Awardees

Still from Still Judy (dir. Lisa Denker)


New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) is pleased to announce the presentation of the Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant to winner Lisa Denker for her documentary feature Still Judy, with a first-ever Honorable Mention awarded to Alyscia Cunningham for her documentary feature I Am More Than My Hair. The film completion grant, now in its 14th year, is provided through the generosity of longtime disability rights advocate Loreen Arbus and awards $7,500 to a woman filmmaker for a film on physical or developmental disability issues; the Honorable Mention receives $1,500.

Lisa Denker’s Still Judy is an hour-long documentary about the remarkable Judy Finelli, who transcends the burden of living the multiple sclerosis by connecting to the circus arts and her family, and regains the will to live anew. I Am More Than My Hair is a documentary film and photography book that brings awareness to alopecia and dispels the myth of what beauty is “supposed” to look like, by featuring women who have experienced hair loss and how they empower themselves to see beauty beyond the media’s standards. 

The projects were chosen from a wide range of applications submitted by women filmmakers from around the country.

Still from I Am More Than My Hair (dir. Alyscia Cunningham)


“Not only is it important to give incentive to people with disability who are pursuing their dream of becoming filmmakers, but this grant in and of itself raises awareness since it’s offered through organizations that have a vibrant membership,” Loreen Arbus said. “NYWIFT is a preeminent organization in the entertainment industry. My seven grants have visibility throughout the entire country and reach different members of organizations which exponentially increases the number of people who will think about advancing people with disability through their art.”

NYWIFT is committed to raising the underrepresented voices of the disabled community and championing women filmmakers through our continued partnership with Loreen Arbus,” said NYWIFT Executive Director Cynthia Lopez. “We are especially proud to be able to support two films this year, both of which celebrate the joy and resilience of women, and the empowerment of the those with disabilities. In a year that has been particularly difficult for so many, it is especially meaningful to support two films that are fueled by hope.”

In addition, Arbus grant winner Still Judy received an in-kind post-production grant for audio description for blind and low vision audiences, generously provided by Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word. Spitz has provided this support to the NYWIFT Loren Arbus grantees since 2016.

I am deeply honored to have been provided this opportunity to audio describe Judy’s remarkable life’s journey and share her extraordinary story with low vision and blind audiences. I am equally proud to stand by the meaningful cause of inclusive media accessibility in perfect alignment with Loreen Arbus and NYWIFT,” Michele Spitz said.


It’s been important to show that beyond Judy’s living with M.S. there exists a whole layered complex person,” said Still Judy filmmaker Lisa Denker. This is the only grant I applied for that is focused on disability, and it makes the NYWIFT Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant that much more of an honor to receive, because it is rare in its focus. Additionally, Michele Spitz’s generous offering to do the accessibility asset of audio description is a tremendous bonus.”


Both Still Judy and I Am More Than My Hair will receive promotional support from ReelAbilities Film Festival, the largest festival in the US dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.

Production still from Still Judy (dir. Lisa Denker)


NYWIFT also partnered with the festival for a special edition of its NYWIFT Talks series, which has provided weekly industry updates and vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on the media and entertainment since March of 2020. NYWIFT Talks: ReelAbilities Film Festival was presented virtually on April 14 at 4 PM EST, and explored the festival’s contributions to media, 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. ReelAbilities Director and Co-Founder Isaac Zablocki and Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word were in conversation, moderated by Executive Director of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation Rachel Byrne. The panel was free to attend. Learn more and listen to the audio recording of the panel (and read the transcript) here


Learn more about NYWIFT grants


About the Filmmakers

Lisa Denker
grew up in a family of artists and designers, innately developing her visual skills. She studied filmmaking 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. Learn more: http://stilljudy.com/filmmaker/

Alyscia Cunningham is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, filmmaker, and photographer who has contributed to National Geographic, Discovery Channel, America Online and the Smithsonian Institution. Alyscia is also the Founder of Her House Media and the CEO of a Maryland Home Improvement company, Uprising Builders, LLC. Her work focuses on changing the dialogue around beauty standards for women. After the success of Alyscia’s first book, Feminine Transitions: A Photographic Celebration of Natural Beauty she became one of the FrontLine Voices for Stop the Beauty Madness, a campaign focused on changing the dynamics of beauty globally. She continues her contribution to social change with her documentary film and photography book, I Am More Than My Hair. Alyscia also co-organized Reel Moms, a supportive community for working Moms and Caregivers in the film and TV industry, in partnership with Women in Film and Video. Her goal is to continue producing documentary films and photo books. With the completion and direction provided through the Horror/Psychological Thriller workshop with Sundance Institute, she plans to also write and direct horror films. Learn more:  https://www.alyscia.com/about-alyscia