QUEENS — In 2012, when Queens-based director Sam Fleischner was shooting a film about an autistic boy who got lost in the Rockaways, he didn’t know that a real tragedy involving Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old from Rego Park with similar challenges, would capture New Yorkers’ attention one year later.
His feature movie, "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," will be one of several films shown during the annual NY ReelAbilities Festival — an event showcasing films about people who have disabilities — to be held at the Forest Hills’ Central Queens Y in March.
“It was very eerie and sad” when Avonte went missing, said Fleischner, 31, whose movie tells the story of 13-year-old Ricky who runs away from his Rockaway Beach home after having a fight with his mother during Hurricane Sandy.
The movie, Fleischner noted, tackles the phenomenon called "eloping," common among kids with autism.
After Ricky runs away, he wanders into the labyrinth of the subway system, which often attracts autistic kids, Fleischner said. When Avonte went missing from his Queens school in October last year, the search initially also focused on the subway system.
The movie, unlike Avonte's story, has a happy ending — the boy is found.
“One thing I hope people will take away from that movie is the importance of looking out for each other,” said Fleischner. “There is certain responsibility that we have towards each other.”
During the two-day festival, the audience will also have a chance to watch "Gabrielle," a feature film about a developmentally disabled woman who is determined to live independently, and "Do You Believe in Love?," a documentary about a paralyzed Israeli woman, who specializes in finding romantic matches for people with disabilities.
A discussion will follow each screening, and numerous speakers will be present.
Fifteen-year-old Jesus Sanchez, who plays the lost autistic boy, and has a mild form of autism himself, will be at the festival along with his mother. Experts will answer questions about autism.
“We are also going to have a local speaker who is an Orthodox Jewish matchmaker who matches people with disabilities,” said Peggy Kurtz of Central Queens Y, which brings the festival to Queens for the third time.
The festival will also include several short films and will be accompanied by the Pearls Project, a photographic exhibit, featuring young people in various disabilities programs, Kurtz said.
“The films capture experiences that people sometimes shy away from in other contexts," Kurtz noted. "The festival is a wonderful way to raise awareness about the lives of individuals with disabilities.”
The festival will be held at the Central Queens Y, at 67-09 108 Street in Forest Hills on March 9-10. For tickets and information go here or call (718) 268-5011, ext. 151. All films are open to the general public ($8 donation).