We’ve always been big fans of the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. Now in its 10th year, it’s one of the few events that lets disabled storytellers showcase their work for able-bodied audiences. The quality of the material keeps getting better, and the range of voices keeps getting broader and more diverse.
A record-breaking 115 entries were submitted this year, all of them focused on the theme of disability and love. That’s a rich subject, and the filmmakers explore it from every angle. We watched at least part of all 115 films, which sounds like a huge investment but is really equivalent to watching two feature films or about half a season of Succession. It’s totally doable. Each film runs from three to five minutes (you can find them all here).
The list below features the 2023 Film Challenge entries that touch on on limb loss and limb difference. Many of them intersect with other forms of disability, which we’re happy to see. Indeed, we recommend that you venture beyond this list to check out stories told from other disability perspectives.
The films are presented in no particular order. Award winners will be announced on April 22.
Unlucky in Love
What it’s about: First of all, this is a musical with original songs and exceptional singers. Watch it for those reasons alone. The story involves a dating-show contestant who, to her great annoyance, gets crammed into the melodramatic “lost her limb” category. The notoriety leads to a new relationship that starts out strong but then gets rocky for reasons you won’t expect.
Who’s involved: Rachel Handler, a former Film Challenge award winner, wrote the story, co-wrote the song lyrics, and co-stars in the film.
What it’s about: Can an episode of flagrant, clueless ableism really serve as the basis for a romantic connection? In this tale, it gives rise not only to true love but also something more profound: self-love, which is the ultimate armor against ableism of all kinds (flagrant or otherwise). The film ultimately is about the interconnections among love, loss, grief, and renewal. Powerful.
Who’s involved: Melanie Waldman, also a former Film Challenge award winner, wrote, directed, and co-stars.
The Last Two
What it’s about: The dastardly Sandworms have obliterated the entire human race. Nobody’s left except two tough, smart, and brave amputees . . . and neither one can find a date. Same as it ever was. The dialogue’s snappy, the tone is cheerfully apocalyptic, and the amusements include radioactive spiders (and rats), tree-stump graffiti, canned beans, and squeaky dog toys.
Who’s involved: Kyle O’Neil and longtime activist / veteran actor Angel Giuffria co-wrote and co-star.
What it’s about: This may have happened to you: You’re fresh off a breakup, you’re stuck in an embarrassing predicament involving a body part, and the only person you can turn to—the only person who knows you intimately enough to get you out of the jam—is your ex. It’s awkward, but there’s no other choice. And if the body part is a prosthetic limb with a fried battery, and the communication problems that caused you to break up in the first place are amplified by your situation? Hilarity.
Who’s involved: Actor and musician Lee Cleaveland co-wrote and co-stars. He also penned the rockin’ tune featured on the soundtrack, “I Wanna Die (With You by My Side),” performed with his band.
Love and Haste
What it’s about: We’ve watched this three times and we’re still not totally sure what’s going on. But it’s a lot. There’s a missing woman who left her prosthesis on a park bench, a breathless TV anchor who reports the story, a speed-dating session that’s attended by one person who loves machetes and another who has a box full of bloody knives in his car, and a trail-hogging bicyclist who keeps showing up everywhere. We were amused and entertained, albeit confused.
Who’s involved: Disability activist and adaptive clothing model Caitlin Conner wrote, directed, and co-stars.
What it’s about: “Who goes on a blind date in 2023?” asks one of the characters in this witty vignette. It’s hard to imagine a never-laid-eyes situation happening in the swipe-right world we inhabit today (although it so happens we met our spouse on a blind date years and years ago), but the unlikely circumstance plays a critical role in how this story unexpectedly plays out. We do think the able-bodied girlfriend in this tale deserved a happier outcome. Maybe she’ll have better luck in Tinder.
Who’s involved: Atlanta-based actor and playwright Tiana Ferrell wrote, directed, and co-stars.
What it’s about: One couple in a busy park bickers over an impending relocation. Another clinks champagne glasses over a picnic lunch. A skeptical woman scoffs at a magician but grudgingly picks a card. And a man briefly emerges from an Alzheimer’s haze and regains his selfhood through song. Don’t think magic really exists? Watch this one all the way to the end.
Who’ve involved: John Lawson has participated in every Disability Film Challenge, going all the way back to the first one. He co-wrote, co-stars, and performs the original tune.
What it’s about: In this very nice piece of storytelling, the action is easy to follow even there’s only one word of dialogue in the whole film. Our protagonist slays digital enemies at the digital arcade with one hand. But when a cute gamer girl shows up at an adjacent machine, he has to vanquish his shyness and self-doubt—a difficult fight no matter how many limbs you bring into combat
Who’s involved: Nickolas Main co-wrote and co-stars.