Films Exploring Music, Hearing Loss, and Disabilities

An Interview with Director of the ReelAbilities Film Festival

The stories of a blind pianist, a singer with developmental disabilities, and music lovers with various forms of hearing loss will all come together at ReelAbilities, an annual disability-themed film festival in New York City. The festival, running from March 6 to 11 this year, will feature three films about musicians, their struggles, their artistry, and their relationships. We spoke with Festival Director and Director of Film Programs at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Manhattan, Isaac Zablocki, to find out more.

What films are in the line-up this year at ReelAbilities?

This year we had over 300 submissions—many wonderful—and sadly not all the films that were great could be included. So we have our best program yet. For example, Lost and Sound is a brilliant documentary about hearing loss and music. Through characters who have lost hearing in different ways, the film explores the idea of having an appreciation of music and love of sound despite this loss.

I will also mention the feature film Touch of the Light, a dramatic narrative that follows the true life story of blind piano prodigy Huang Yu-Siang and his relationships in his attempt to enter the less sheltered world of adulthood; as well as the award-winning feature film Gabrielle, which is about a woman in a home for adults with developmental disabilities. Gabrielle is the star of her group choir, and the film follows in beautiful drama her fight for acceptance.

What do you think is the importance of your covering hearing loss in particular?

Every year we try to include a variety of disabilities from across the spectrum. Hearing loss has been an important and engaging topic since our first year and brings out an enthusiastic audience. This might be because film is visual, and we caption all of our films.

How did the film festival come about?

Anita Altman of UJA Federation and I started the festival seven years ago. I run the film department at the JCC in Manhattan, and I was receiving an abundance of fabulous disability-themed films. We have a very active center for special needs, and more and more I was realizing that there is a need to show these films that was not being filled.

At the same time, Anita was realizing the power of film to move, relate broadly, and create change through her support of the film Praying with Lior. Anita runs a network of disability organizations, and when we came together, it was a perfect match. We very quickly got the ball rolling, raised some basic funds, hired Ravit Turjeman as co-director, and have been running since.

Go to for tickets and information on the ReelAbilities film festival, March 6–11, 2014, in New York City.

Isaac Zablocki is Director of Film Programs at the JCC in Manhattan and is one of the leading presenters of Jewish and Israeli films in America. He programs over seven film festivals a year including The Other Israel Film Festival and ReelAbilites: NY Disabilities Film Festival. Isaac also teaches film in various institutions.
Copyright © 2018 Nancy M. Williams. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Is there anyway that people like myself who have no way of coming to New York can see these films.

    Kudos for the Mr. Zablocki and to you Joanna and Nancy for writing about this.

    Mary Jo

  2. After NY, the festival continues in 14 cities nationally. Check them all out if that helps.
    If we are not in your location, get a festival started for your area. (If you guys have the resources for it.)

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