One of the highlights of last year’s ReelAbilities Houston Film and Arts Festival was an impromptu performance by someone playing a canstrument. Luis Cortez, a young man with spastic cerebral palsy, took the stage wearing a smartphone on his wrist. As he waved his arm, the motion-based instrument responded with the sounds of a guitar. Following his lead, the house band kicked off a rousing rendition of “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).”

“The crowd went crazy,” remembers Dee Dee Dochen, this year’s festival co-chair.

A 10-day event with a film festival, art exhibit, concert, and a slate of speakers, ReelAbilities Houston is a citywide celebration of the exceptional lives of people living with disabilities. “It’s important to bring these stories to Houston,” Dochen tells us. “Working with the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, we want to change the perception of people living with disabilities, to erase the stigmas, and to be entertaining.”

The artists and speakers participating in the festival have each accomplished far beyond what was expected. Dochen says that while the obstacles the participants face may have seemed overwhelming, they proved not to be insurmountable. “When we don’t hold back, we forget about the things that hold us back. And anything is possible.”

The ReelAbilities Film Festival offers more than a dozen shorts and features including ​Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw​, a documentary about Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Chamique Holdsclaw. Publicly she enjoyed back-to-back college championships, WNBA Rookie of the Year honors, and an Olympic gold medal while privately she was deeply depressed and sometimes suicidal. She walked away from a promising basketball career and is now a mental health care advocate.

Native Houstonian Ezra Roy, who has Down syndrome, is among the featured artists at the ReelArt exhibit. He works mostly in mixed media and oil painting and has an elegant, mature style. An honors graduate of Texas Southern University, Roy is one of the first artists with Down Syndrome to break onto the mainstream national fine arts scene.

Stroke survivor and guitarist Brandon Ray will be joined by his brother Nathan Ray on harmonica to perform “Hook” at the ReelMusic concert.

“When I was in Methodist Hospital, still in a coma, no one had much, if any confidence, as to whether or not I would be coming back,” Ray says. “So, Nathan played ‘Hook’ because he knew that was one of my favorite songs, from one of my favorite bands.” To Nathan’s surprise, Brandon responded. “I mouthed every single word to the song, including the super-fast scat bridge, which, if you ever listen to the song, you'll understand what a challenge that would be for anyone, even if they weren't in a coma.”

Speakers for the ReelPeople: UP Abilities segment of the festival include Jen Bricker, born without legs and a championship gymnast, Amanda Boxtel, who is unable to walk and works to bring exoskeletons and bionics to disabled individuals, and Erik Weihenmayer, a mountain climber who is blind.

Feb. 12-21. Ticket prices vary. Various locations. More info and tickets at reelabilitieshouston.org.

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