Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival zooms out for more diversity


Just after Thanksgiving 2017, without much fanfare, the six-year-old Cincinnati Reelabilities Film Festival announced that it was changing its name and its focus. Beginning in 2018, it would be known as the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival.

Rather than focus solely on films about people with disabilities, this year’s festival will screen films about and made by all manner of people who are often regarded as “other.” With this broadened scope, the festival will include subjects as disparate as race, gender, sexuality, identity and faith.

Much about the festival is the same as in the past. It’s sponsored by LADD, the Cincinnati-based Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled Inc. And most of the festival events will take place in various venues throughout Over-the-Rhine. 

As for the new focus, the social and political unrest in the world around us seemed to demand an expansion of the festival, said co-chair Jon Sanchez, founder and CEO of the Team Performance Institute.

“There is so much we can learn from those people we often consider as ‘others,’ ” Sanchez said. “It’s not that we ignore those people. I think it’s because we think we know them. 

But the reality, Sanchez added, is that most of us don’t really know as much about “other” people as we think: “If we do things right and work hard enough, maybe the OTR Film Festival can do something to close that gap.”

Festival runs Sept. 26-30. Passes and individual ticket information available on the website.

513-487-3939 or otrfilmfest.org


We checked in with the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival’s managing director and three honorary co-chairs to get a broader understanding of the event’s place in our community’s arts and culture scene. The festival’s complete co-chair team is Scott Van Nice, Kitty Rosenthal, Jon Sanchez and Arlene Koth.

Jack Geiger

Jack Geiger

Jack Geiger

Managing director • founding member of the Miami University Entrepreneurship Institute • more than 40 years with Fortune 100 companies, specializing in new product development, strategic planning and branding

Q: You’ve been involved since the first Cincinnati Reelabilities festival, correct?

A: I’ve had a heart for this for a long time. I came back from a trip to Sundance and felt this was something we could do here in Cincinnati. We felt Cincinnati needed a major film festival. That’s when I reached out to Reelabilities. I thought perhaps they could help us run their festival here in Cincinnati.

Q: The festival seemed to work well in the past. Why change now?

A: The world is so different now than it was in 2012. Now, especially, there’s an uncomfortable feeling about where we are as a population and as a world. We tend to celebrate the differences among us rather than our commonalities. I’m not sure that’s a comfortable place we all want to stay. So we’re trying to learn how to talk to one another more and understand one another’s journeys.

Q: Do you see more changes in future festivals? Or is this it for a while?

A: I think you’re going to see more growth in the future. The reality is that we’re looking for a festival that is even more integrated into the community. Something like SXSW (South by Southwest), where it’s 12 months a year and one element leads into the next. There are conversations that we’re still not sure how to have. For me, film is one thing we can really add to this community conversation and help it go wide and far.

Scott Van Nice

Scott Van Nice

Scott Van Nice

Co-chair • manager, electronic discovery and computer forensics service, Procter & Gamble • attorney • educator

Q: Unlike some of your co-chairs, you’ve been involved with the festival for several years. What attracted you back then?

A: I was already very impressed with what LADD does. They do impressive work in helping adults with disabilities – myself included (Van Nice is deaf). Really, at the end of the day, everyone will have a disability of one sort or another. They might have a permanent disability like mine. Or 20 or 30 years from now, they may have reduced eyesight. Or start losing hearing and have to rely on closed captioning. Or they might be paralyzed as a result of a car accident, like my brother-in-law.

Q: Embracing people who are different doesn’t seem to be a strength of our society at present. Why launch this festival now?

A: I think that it’s an extremely fair assessment. The country has become pretty much polarized in a lot of ways. The hope is that with this film festival we can have refreshing and frank conversations. So that when we see a person with a disability, we can let go of our biases and listen, instead of feeling nervous in their presence. Sometimes I think we already know the answers. We just don’t know enough to ask the right questions.

Q: What does Cincinnati have to gain from getting behind this festival?

A: The neat thing about this festival is that it forces people to sit and watch and listen. Instead of limiting their exchanges to 140 characters on a tweet or a Facebook posting, this gives us a chance to take a pause and listen. It’s really about encouraging Cincinnati to be more comfortable with all the different people who are out there. 

Kitty Rosenthal

Kitty Rosenthal

Kitty Rosenthal

Co-chair • philanthropist • educator • board member of numerous nonprofit organizations

Q: How did you come to be involved in this festival?

A: I’ve known about LADD for years, but until last year, I had been unaware of the impact they have in the community. What they do is pretty remarkable. You can feel it the moment you enter their office. It’s such a loving place. You walk in, and you feel that you are valued. I had not experienced a feeling quite like that before.

Q: Aren’t there better ways than a film festival to remind us of our shortcomings as a society?

A: Maybe. But much of the time people aren’t aware of those shortcomings. We’re all human and have to protect ourselves. But sometimes we don’t do it in the best ways. We hurt people in ways that aren’t intentional.

Q: Do you think that’s a big problem in Cincinnati?

A: As much as we think we’re doing a good job, I think our neighborhoods are still too segmented. Intellectually, we say we are inclusive and thoughtful. But when you step back and look – the way films can – sometimes we’re not doing as well as we think. This is an opportunity for Cincinnati to be identified on a national level as a place that cares about these things, about being inclusive and thoughtful.

Jon Sanchez

Jon Sanchez

Jon Sanchez

Co-chair • founder, CEO of the Team Performance Institute • graduate, U.S. Naval Academy • former Navy Seal

Q: Why did you get involved with the festival?

A: The more I heard about the festival and its goals, the more excited I became. They’re trying to do the same things I talk about when I work with various corporations. I’m not talking about films – that’s not where my connection is. My connection is to helping people. My work and my life’s passion are to help people realize their full potential.

Q: You brought up the idea of people being regarded as “others.” Have you experienced that?

A: All the time. My last name is Sanchez. That’s a Hispanic last name. But I’m a Polish Filipino. I speak German. When I was overseas, people thought I was Egyptian. Or Italian. What am I? I have no idea. I’m me.


Selected highlights from the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival

SEPT. 26

“Christopher Robin” – (feature, USA) starring Ewan McGregor, directed by Marc Forster. Christopher Robin encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life. Free, 7 p.m., Washington Park

SEPT. 27

“Being Rachel” – (documentary, Canada) directed by Ragnar Keil. A documentary about youths with developmental disabilities struggling to mount a play about their lives. 8 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA

“Happy Lucky Golden Tofu Panda Dragon Good Time Fun Fun Show” – (documentary, USA) directed by Carrie Preston. East meets West in this live stand-up comedy sketch and rock ’n’ roll/spoken word concert film focused on Asian-American themes. 6:15 p.m., Corbett Theater, SCPA

SEPT. 28

“Harlem Blues” – (short subject, USA) directed by Nicole L. Thompson. Filled with survivor’s guilt, a young musician is haunted by the memories of losing his father. He turns to prescription drugs to self-medicate, but soon realizes playing music is the only thing that can save him. 1:15 p.m., Woodward Theater

“Wale” – (short subject, UK) directed by Barnaby Blackburn. An 18-year-old youth offender is trying to start his own business as a mobile mechanic. But enterprise isn’t so easy when you’re a young, black male with a criminal past. 3:30 p.m., Woodward Theater

SEPT. 29

“A Place Where We Can Be Treated Fairly” – (short subject, USA) directed by Eli Powers. A short documentary focusing on individuals experiencing homelessness and the temporary asylum they find within Cincinnati’s public library. 12:15 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA 

“After Death in Heaven” – (short subject, Belgium) directed by Lukas Bossuyt. Autobiographical story about the death of a father as seen through the eyes of his son who has Down syndrome. 2:15 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA

“United Skates” – (documentary, USA) directed by Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler. When America’s last-standing roller rinks are threatened with closure, a community of thousands battle in a racially charged environment to save an underground subculture. Noon, Corbett Theater, SCPA

SEPT. 30 

“Fool” – (short subject, USA) directed by Eryn Rea. Myles, a simple man living somewhere in suburbia, invites his friends to his birthday party, but things don’t go as planned when Myles suffers a heart attack. 3:30 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA

“Let Us Dance” – (documentary, Tahiti) directed by Jacques Navarro-Rovira. 

Two contemporary dancers arrive in Tahiti to conduct three weeks of therapeutic-dance master classes for people with different levels of physical abilities. After the instructors leave, a young contemporary choreographer and a young Polynesian dancer take over and put on an inclusive show. 1:30 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA

“What Will People Say” – (feature, Norway), directed by Iram Haq. Nisha’s double life – obedient to her traditional Pakistani upbringing at home, typical Norwegian teenager to her friends – comes crashing down when her concerned parents kidnap her and send her to Pakistan, in an empathetic story of family, community and culture. 6 p.m., Mayerson Theater, SCPA

Festival runs Sept. 26-30. Passes and individual ticket information available on the website. 513-487-3939 or otrfilmfest.org

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