New York Women in Film & Television has named Lisa Denker the winner of the Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant for her documentary feature Still Judy. The first-ever Honorable Mention award was given 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 winner receives $1,500.
Still Judy is an hour-long documentary about the remarkable Judy Finelli, who transcends the burden of living with multiple sclerosis by connecting to the circus arts and her family, which is how she 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.
“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 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.
NYWIFT will also partner 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 will be presented virtually on April 14 at 4:00 p.m. EDT, and will explore 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 will be in conversation, moderated by executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Foundation Rachel Byrne.
The panel is free to attend. RSVP required at https://www.nywift.org/event/nywift-talks-reelabilities-film-festival/
Learn more about NYWIFT grants at https://www.nywift.org/fund-for-women-filmmakers/.