Saturday, March 2, 2024

Reel Appeal: 9th Annual CommUNITY Film Festival

On Sunday, Aug. 20, the CommUNITY Film Festival celebrates its ninth year, inspiring short films by and about people living with disabilities. 

The festival, a project of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, for the past six years has been co-hosted by Film Toledo, a group of local film, media and educational professionals with a mission to bring more film productions to the Toledo/Northwest Ohio area. 

Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities highlights filmmaking talents of all ages and abilities. “Wolverines,” “Galactic Guardians” and “Music Videos” are just a few of the short film subjects celebrating people of all abilities. 

President of Film Toledo, Michael DeSanto, filled us in on the Festival, what to expect this year, and some favorite Festival moments since Film Toledo became involved. 

Festival Focus 

CommUNITY Film Festival
Photo provided via CommUNITY Film Festival.

“The focus of the Festival is to showcase participants’ daily lives,” DeSanto explains, adding, “Some films are very creative, and there are even music videos, but it’s all about what their interests are and showcasing how they live.”

The Festival has been held annually at the Maumee Indoor Theater, where films are screened and eligible for prizes. The goal is to promote community and inclusion while celebrating the lives of people of all abilities. This year submissions have included 20 short films which will be screened, with five or six of those films taking home prizes. 

 Partnership with Film Toledo

Film Toledo is the local film commission for Toledo and Northwest Ohio with a mission of bringing more film productions to the area. Charles Wetzel Jr., networking coordinator at Film Toledo, was a judge for CommUNITY Film Festival before becoming the co-host and now the host.  Wetzel brought Film Toledo onboard to work with the Festival. DeSanto has helped to give the Festival a more visible presence, donating his talents in graphic design and creating a website. During the Festival, Wetzel makes sure that things runs smoothly. 

“A major focus is partnering the right people with more seasoned filmmakers to really bring their ideas to life,” DeSanto said. “Film Toledo paired one filmmaker with someone who specializes in visual effects to create a short film where the main character is superhero ‘Wolverine.’ If filmmakers who have an interest in music, they (are) paired with people who specialize in music videos.”

From Story to Film

CommUNITY Film Festival
Photo provided via CommUNITY Film Festival.

One of the challenges when making these films is uncovering the big idea. DeSanto sees the yearly Festival as highly anticipated, with everyone eager to get their stories on film.  “There are a lot of ideas, so it’s about trying to decide what to work on this year and how to make things different,” DeSanto said. “We have a lot of sequels to previous projects. In one case we have a prequel made by Cohl Dollison, who is an artist, and created a superhero, ‘The Galactic Guardian.’ The film is made in comic strip style and this year (Dollison) is creating a short film about the origin story of the character.”

At the Festival

“We try to grow the Festival every year and get more people involved, while keeping it within this community,” DeSanto said. “The Festival itself is like a big party. It’s a free event, everyone is welcome and we don’t make a profit or charge for entries.  At the Festival attendees can meet individual filmmakers, their families and the staff from the board of Developmental Disabilities. We partner with iDance in Toledo, a group that teaches dance to people of all abilities, and every year we have a live dance performance in the middle of the festival to get everyone up and dancing.“

Sunday, Aug. 20. Maumee Indoor Theater, 601 N Conant St. To find out more about CommUNITY Film Festival times and tickets, visit

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