In 2022, MovieMaker magazine named the Cincinnati festival one of “25 Coolest Film Festivals in the World” and this year’s lineup is surely enough to cement a spot on this list.
As the nation’s first diversity film festival that’s led by individuals from the disability community, the OTR International Film Festival assembles films that represent marginalized voices, celebrate diversity and inclusion and honor shared humanity. It’s organized by Cincinnati nonprofit LADD, which provides opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.
The 2023 OTR International Film Festival is July 6-8. Screenings will take place at the Contemporary Art Center, the Woodward Theater and the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
The festival’s artistic director, TT Stern-Enzi, says the selection process benefits from an open submission forum, from which organizers chose from about 45 candidates this year. The remaining selections were handpicked to fill gaps in representation, like promoting options with female filmmakers. About 45 percent of this year’s films were female-made, Stern-Enzi said.
Among options from around the world, one local film was brought to Stern-Enzi’s attention called A Slice of Pie. Set in Norwood, the documentary tells of a couple who serve farm-to-table ingredients at their “pay what you can” pizza restaurant.
The film’s preview shows that the couple gained notoriety while wheelbarrowing produce from their garden to their nearby restaurant kitchen called Moriah Pie. “Extend love and risk nothing in return,” the couple says of their “pay what you can” policy. They hope to shed light on the “poverty of our time,” which they believe is the too-common, urban disconnect from food sources. Moriah Pie opens for business in Norwood every Friday.
The festival uses film as a tool to create empathy among viewers, filmmakers and their subjects. Stern-Enzi tells CityBeat that the festival nurtures a sense of community. When individuals experience the same film — or even different films — and connect on their unique experiences, the takeaway promotes understanding and acceptance, which translates to tangible change.
“Really, what I'm most excited about is the opportunity to bring people together,” Stern-Enzi says of this year’s festival. “Our footprint is a little larger than it was last year because we've added the CAC as a regular venue. We're using the CAC, the Art Academy and the Woodward. So I love that tight footprint that we have. I want to make sure that people come to see movies, but I also want to make sure that they go check out the bars and the restaurants and they hang out down here. Because this is about celebrating the OTR community.”
This year’s theme is
Sweet Disaster out of Germany tells of a woman whose life is interrupted by unexpected pregnancy and relationship troubles. Go Through the Dark was produced in China and is about a blind boy who faces prejudice against the blind and has a special talent playing an ancient board game. The Exile of the Sea is a film based on a true story in Columbia, recounting a woman who is forced by violence to flee her home and seek a new life; the film sheds light on immigrant experiences and the personal tale of a woman seeking asylum to survive.
The pillars of the OTR International Film Festival include freedom, identity, diversity, disability and faith.
The opening night featured documentary on June 6 is the Canadian-made Okay! The Autism Spectrum Band Film. It recounts the ASD Band members creating original music and approaching their first public show. Opening night will take place at Music Hall.
Throughout the film, the members' talents are proven to span far beyond musical ability. For example, Ron Adea, the piano player, can cite the day of the week for any given date in history. (He knows that June 10, 1994 was a Friday off the top of his head, then in the next frame goes on to play the piano exceptionally well).
In past iterations, film stars have been known to appear for their OTR International Film Festival debut. Stern-Enzi says it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the ASD Band is present for the screening.
With more than 50 films in three days, viewers might have to get choosy with their screening selections. But the opening night, “star-studded” gala and screening is looking like a can’t-miss event that represents the festival’s mission.
“Really a big part of what I want this festival to be about is I want to make sure that when people come to these screenings, they're not just seeing documentaries, because you can always find the docs,” Stern-Enzi says. “I'm looking for the opportunity and the day — and it will be five or ten years from now, maybe — where we're bringing in a great full slate of narrative films and you’ll find people with disabilities with love interests, action heroes, or whatever it is. And they're just going to be people in those stories, the disability won't have to be the main draw, the main thing that anyone's thinking about. They'll look at and say, ‘Well that's a story about a bunch of people and some of them happen to have disabilities, and some of them happen to be Black, or some of them happen to be Muslim, or whatever it may be.’”
For more information about the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival, visit otrfilmfest.org.
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