Meet The Team

Meet The Team – Jonathan Bartholomy

Meet The Team

I have connected to films for as long as I can remember. The first film I recall viewing in a theater was Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1989), watching it with a cousin. When I saw Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Bear (1988) with my father, I was somewhat traumatized by the growling and roaring of the adult male bear. I remember watching Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) (my first PG-13 film!) and a mother scurried her child out of the theater after Penguin bit a man’s nose.

I wanted to be Peter Venkman from Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters (1984) and have my own proton pack. Watching the initial Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films caused my interest in Taekwondo and Jeet Kune Do. Zemeckis’ Contact (1997) made me think about the similar searches in life that can occur on seemingly different paths. Whether it was watching George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964) with my mother and enjoying the singing and costumes, or being introduced to Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) by my father and contemplating free will, control, and society, I came to understand that films can be more than “just movies.”

As I became more interested in the field of Disability Studies years later as an undergraduate student, I realized how powerful films are in shaping the way people think about disability. Various stereotypes connected to disability have been used over the years time and again in mainstream films. I want to continue conversations surrounding disability and film and engage with different perspectives as more people with disabilities become involved in the ongoing process.

– Jonathan Bartholomy, Planning Committee Member

Jonathan Bartholomy is a 2016 graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) master’s degree program in Disability and Human Development. His main interests include Cultural Studies, Film Studies, and Disability Studies. He enjoys examining and analyzing the construction of disability in film/television and how this impacts society’s understanding of disability.

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at

Meet The Team – Grishma Shah, Co-Director

RAFF bio3


Grishma, is a Mass-Media Consultant that works with filmmakers, actors, curators and film festivals. When Grishma isn’t screening a film or curating a film festival, you will find her on a film set, in a script writing class, or preparing for her next art exhibition.

“Films bring out an intoxicating concoction of feelings. Before we know it, we become addicted to it. We need to know what happens to the characters, and feel accountable for them as they live out their lives. Our understanding of their situation changes how we think. And sometimes we see ourselves in them. Film allows us that- it connects us to what’s important, humanity.”

– Grishma Shah, RAFF Chicago Co-Director

Click here for information on Grishma’s most current project:

Past project:

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at

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Fun Fact Friday presents: “Freaks” (1932), the film that shook the studio…executives!

Fun Fact Friday brings you, our audience, facts and information sparking discussions related to “inclusion” as it intersects with disability, culture, and society.

Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) follows traveling circus sideshow performers and their interactions with others behind the curtain. The film focuses on Hans, (Harry Earles) a little person who loves a nondisabled trapeze artist named Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). His efforts to woo her are met with laughter and mockery behind his back, especially by Cleopatra and her lover Hercules, (Henry Victor) the strongman of the company. Once Cleopatra learns that Hans will inherit a fortune, she and Hercules hatch a plan to have her marry Hans and poison him. When the other “freaks” of the company learn about this plan to murder one of their own, they exact revenge on those responsible. Watch the opening scene…


From behind the scenes of Freaks survives a story involving author F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was working on a script for MGM at the time. One day during lunch, Fitzgerald saw conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton at the commissary and became sick after realizing that both understood the menu even though only one of them was reading it. Studio executives and crew members also complained about having to look at the disabled performers at the commissary. These issues led to an “off-limits” policy, effectively segregating disabled performers from the commissary. This agreement was reached by Irving Thalberg who was the Vice-President in charge of Production.

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Olga Baclanova and Harry Earles

Reaction by Jonathan Bartholomy 
Tod Browning’s Freaks is a fascinating film, to say the least. 85 years after its initial release, it has survived, continuing to attract audiences and spark discussions. For its time, Freaks was something entirely different that audiences were not prepared to see. While Lon Chaney, the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” was known for roles that included disabled characters, moviegoers understood that what they saw on screen from him was not “real.” (Norden 74). Chaney was known for his use of prosthetics and other devices for his roles. Freaks goes beyond this, having people with disabilities on the screen playing various roles. The reaction to Freaks when it was first shown in theaters can help indicate how people with disabilities were perceived at this point in time in U.S. culture. It was released during a period where the idea of people with disabilities as “freaks” was fading fast, replaced by a medicalized view of disability that emerged in the late 19th century and continues to this day. Through modernization, viewing different bodies as something extraordinary or captivating for audiences fell out of favor (Garland-Thomson 11). The medicalization of disability “casts human variation as deviance from the norm, as pathological condition, as deficit, and significantly, as an individual burden and personal tragedy” (Linton 11). With such a shift at that time, the images people saw on the screen were met with revulsion. People with disabilities were pitied and withheld from public view, with focus placed on eliminating disability through cure, rehabilitation, public policy, or death. Thankfully, further cultural shifts in later years brought about reevaluations of the film.

When I first saw Freaks “back in the day,” I had never seen anything like it. As a person with a disability, I was attracted to it and repulsed by it. On the one hand, having grown up with other kids with disabilities in elementary school, I connected to its sense of community and understanding. On the other hand, I was disturbed by how quickly the “freaks” turn to revenge, thinking about how this may have impacted how people saw other people with disabilities. As time moved on, I saw more and more that connected with my interests in film and disability, examining everything from historical factors to shot selections and camera angles. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the film.

A number of years ago, I wondered if anybody would take on the idea of remaking Freaks. I briefly entertained the idea (in my imagination, of course) of a studio handing over the reins to someone like Rob Zombie (I believe this was during the time that Zombie had just finished one of his Halloween remakes, so I figured he might have enough clout to actually do something like that). Of course, beyond “the imagining,” I knew that this would not or should not take place. Freaks is better off being left alone. American Horror Story: Freak Show is the most similar program in comparison to the film that I can remember. Still, while AHS showed a surprising level of sensitivity that I didn’t expect, I still found it problematic in reinforcing old ideas about disability.

Freaks makes me think about the efforts towards altering the perceptions of people with disabilities through representation and how things are slow-ly changing. I tend to be apprehensive about any new disability themed film or TV programming that comes out, feeling that I might be devastatingly disappointed. Still, I keep watching what’s on the screen.

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Johnny Eck

Works Cited

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “’Introduction: From Wonder to Error–A Genealogy of Freak

Discourse in Modernity.” Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. New York: New York University Press, 1996. 1-19.

Linton, Simi. Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University
Press, 1998.

Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies.

New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Skal, David J. The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. New York: W.W. Norton &

Company, 1993.

Meet The Team

Meet The Team – Matt Lauterbach, Co-Director

Meet The Team


I vividly remember my first lesson in empathy.

When I was a small child, I bit my sister – regularly and repeatedly. To my parents’ great frustration, I wouldn’t stop. No amount of tears from my sister and no amount of scolding or pleading from my parents could change my behavior. What finally did work was when my mother bit ME to show me what if feels like to be bitten – hard. And when I finally understood how my sister felt, I stopped.

Now, as a documentary film editor, my goal is to make the experiences of others understandable. Empathy is my primary tool, and I strive to represent my subjects’ point of view as truthfully and vividly as possible. My films have explored such perspectives as: an Arab-American grappling with his identity in post-9-11 USA; nursing home residents who discover theater as a way to cope with dementia; a Twitter activist whose experience with homelessness drives him to collect and share hundreds of similar stories; and a young man who is coming to terms with his family’s history of mental illness.

My first exploration of disability was a short documentary called Hearing Images (2010), which illustrates the techniques of audio description & touch tours for blind theater-goers, in which visual images are made verbal and tactile during a special pre-show event. I myself am a trained audio describer, and I now lead touch tours for Victory Gardens Theater, the NeoFuturists, and Chicago Children’s Theater. And thanks to a grant from the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund, I was recently able to launch an interactive media project called Beyond Blind which strives to make the experiences of those with low vision understandable to ‘the sighted.’

Films are a vivid way to transport viewers into someone else’s life, show what it feels like to live in a different time or place or circumstance, and shed light on the various beliefs, perceptions, and abilities that other people possess. As one of the co-directors of ReelAbilities Chicago, I am excited to bring 5 days of engaging films and rich programming to this community. We can’t wait to share!

– Matt Lauterbach, RAFF Chicago Co-Director


RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at


Reveca Torres, Co-Director

Meet The Team – Reveca Torres, Co-Director

Reveca Torres, Co-Director

While on a family vacation in Mexico, Reveca fractured her spinal cord in an automobile accident and was paralyzed. Reveca finished high school and started college unsure if she could physically pursue the career she had always dreamed of: fashion design. With a few adaptations, she was the first student using a wheelchair to complete the fashion degree at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. She continued her studies in Theater Arts at the University of Arizona (UA).

Reveca has worked with Shriners Hospital for Children, Mobility International USA (MIUSA), Athletico Fitness and Performance, and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) National Center for Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD). With their help she has been able to provide resources on recreation, disability rights, college, travel, employment, and fitness to people with disabilities, specifically teenagers.

Reveca stays active and healthy by following a fitness routine and practicing yoga. She loves shoes and music festivals. Whether it’s surfing in California, scuba diving in the Bahamas, cleaning beaches in Costa Rica, attending fashion shows in Paris, or coming up with ideas for BACKBONES, Reveca loves to try new things and encourages others to do what they love too!

Learn more about Reveca Torres through BACKBONES and New

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at

RAFF Chicago Coming October 2017

In January 2017 ReelAbilities Chicago started planning the 2017 Festival. We are excited to announce the dates will be October 4-8, 2017 and we look forward to seeing familiar and new faces!

The past few months we have been meeting and discussing our theme for this festival as well as screening films we might want to show. We have a great team of volunteers so far that have given time and skills to our planning committee. We have been meeting at Adler University and their technology has allowed us to be more inclusive to those volunteers with transportation difficulties by having them join through Google Hangouts. Technology rocks!

If you’d like to get involved please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at