02/18/2013 01:17 EST | Updated 04/20/2013 05:12 EDT

A Film Festival First for Montreal

Montreal has long been praised for being a cultural hub, a "City of Festivals," a city of great diversity. It is worthy of such praise. It has also been criticized for its crumbling infrastructure, its ongoing civic corruption, and its inability to meet the needs of its diverse population. It is equally worthy of such criticism. This spring, one brand new film festival is using Montreal's cultural benefits to highlight issues of accessibility and inclusion. Regarding Disability: A Film Festival will make its debut in Montreal on March 21 and will run in various locations until the 28.

Its aim is to celebrate the artistic achievements of people with disabilities who work in film, as well as to promote awareness and community consciousness regarding disabilities, accessibility, and inclusion. It is sponsored by a wide range of partners including The Government of Quebec, McGill University, Ubisoft, and the Cineplex-Odeon Forum, and although it is only in its first year, the festival boasts an impressive offering of films with wide appeal, events for young adults, as well as actor and disability rights activist, Eddie McGee as a special guest speaker.

The festival is the initiative of disability rights activist and McGill Professor Dr. Tara Flanagan and Thomas Henderson, the director of the Research Centre for the Educational and Professional Inclusion of Students with Disabilities (CRISPESH). Flanagan explains how she and Henderson came to establish the festival: "Thomas and I noticed so many great things going on in a variety of disability communities that just don't seem to reach the general public. People with disabilities are often presented as victims or vulnerable and we wanted to do something that would challenge these ideas in an accessible way while celebrating the contributions of people with disabilities to art and culture. We chose the festival name Regarding Disability because it is about disability and also valuing disability (that is to say, holding people with disabilities in high regard.)"

The featured film of this year's festival will be The Human Race. Flanagan explains its selection: "It's a horror/sci-fi film and it is not about disability but it prominently features actors with a variety of disabilities, and is an example of inclusion. It could be viewed as a general model for how movies should represent diversity more accurately." Flanagan adds that the festival will not be without local flavour: "Montreal is certainly not the most accessible place. Our opening gala will feature some short films by Laurence Parent who tackles the issue of physical accessibility of Montreal's public transportation and some of the systemic issues inherent in adapted transport." While the full schedule shows this to be a festival of international and local excellence, Flanagan wants everyone who is planning to attend to know that there will be some surprise performances and art, and some exciting special guests as well.

Although this is its inaugural year, Regarding Disability already promises to be a compelling addition to Montreal's festival circuit, and one of those rare and beautiful opportunities for art and activism to intersect.

Please visit the Regarding Disability Facebook page