Seattle Film Fest 2024 Review: Samuel & Dan Habib’s “The Ride Ahead” Reveals the Unseen Obstacles of Living with Disability

Samuel Habib is at his cousin’s wedding in “The Ride Ahead” when he says he feels the most left out. His family has taken great pains to include him in all activities as he’s been rendered all but immobile by a rare and debilitating neuromental condition known as GNAO1, which has made it difficult to swallow and confined him to a wheelchair, but the occasion of someone around his age getting hitched is a reminder of what else he’s been prevented from doing due to his physical limitations, lamenting in a voiceover, “I’m trying to figure out how to do everything I want to do, but nobody tells you what to do, especially as an adult with a disability.”

Although Habib’s perspective may be unique on its own for general audiences as he affixes cameras to his wheelchair facing himself and out towards what he sees over two busy years in his life as he graduates to college, it becomes even more so in the tact it takes as he is inevitably wed to his parents who take care of what he can’t medically and make the film itself possible when his father Dan provides the cameras (and credited as a co-director) as a filmmaker himself, yet Habib is desperate to be his own person. The quest for self-sufficiency requires plenty of advice as Habib hits the road to talk to people who have overcome similar circumstances as he finds himself in, from the comedian Maysoon Zayid and actor Ali Stoker to civil rights advocates such as Bob Williams, the former Deputy Commissioner for the Administration on Disabilities, and the late Judy Heumann, who will surely be remembered fondly by anyone who saw “Crip Camp” and founded the pioneering organization Disabled in Action.

The road trip structure may be familiar, but it serves a real purpose here when Habib’s travel from one interview to another is plagued with the kinds of problems that wouldn’t likely occur to an able-bodied person when small talk at the airport gate can be condescending (Habib’s father has to insist to someone that they’re speaking to a 20-year-old rather than an infant) and getting onto the plane is always an ordeal. It sets the scene well for interviews that are equally illuminating when Habib is primarily concerned with inhibitions that have been reinforced by a culture largely unaware of the damage they’re doing through segregation. He commiserates with Heumann about not being among a non-disabled set of peers until high school and she confides that no one ever seriously asked her what she wanted to do with her life, as teachers would of other students, implying there was no real future there.

Even though Habib covers different topics from education to sex (a particular preoccupation of the co-director as he looks for a girlfriend), the film can’t help but feel as if it’s stretched out slightly beyond its natural length as a feature when there’s naturally some repetition and no pronounced dramatic arc. But “The Ride Ahead” transcends form in spending time with Habib, most effective when it’s at its most casual as relaxed conversations give way to observing the filmmaker become confident in his own abilities and after figuring out that two cameras pointed in opposite directions would best connect with audiences, the combination of seeing someone learn and sharing that wisdom at the same time proves mighty potent.

“The Ride Ahead” is available to stream on the SIFF Online platform through May 27th.

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