9 June 2012
For the first time in five years, Charlie Swinbourne went to the UK's Deaf film and television festival Deaffest as a journalist rather than a filmmaker. He reviews the festival and this year's batch of films.
Wolverhampton might not seem like the obvious place for a Deaf film and television festival, but with a historically Deaf-friendly local university, there's a high proportion of Deaf people living, working and studying in the city.
Once a once a year, this gets pushed to another extreme as film fans and film makers gather for Deaffest, which was held at The Lighthouse media centre between 25-27 May. During the weekend, you can barely walk down a street without meeting someone new from another part of the UK. This year I met people from Preston, Derby and Manchester, all before I'd even reached the venue.
The film of Friday night was Louis Neethling's new drama for television 'Still Here,' (which can now be seen in full at http://www.bslbt.co.uk/programmes/still-here/) which starred Deaf acting legends Hal Draper and Jean St Clair. The story was about a group of Deaf performers who are forced to look for a new member after one of them becomes ill. It's an affectionate look at the traditional Deaf community, with a real feeling of warmth and humour that's bound to endear it to older members of the Deaf community.
Things became a lot ruder with the screening of Sex or Chocolate (directed by Ro Navas) where two Deaf women debate which they prefer in explicit sign language. There were a few blushes, but a lot of laughs too.
Another highlight was the fantastic documentary 'The Third Brigade,' about Deaf rebels who fought the Gadaffi regime in Libya. It made you realise what some Deaf people around the world go through, and while you worried for their future, you couldn't help but admire the members of the brigade for becoming accepted alongside their hearing counterparts.
One of the highlights of Saturday was the Young Deaffest awards, showcasing a range of films made by talented young Deaf people. For me the contenders that stood out were 'Twelve,' by the NDCS (directed by Ted Evans and Bev Wilson), and a dark comedy called 'Deaf Vampires,' featuring children from Oak Lodge School in London. Both films showed off the inventiveness and humour of young Deaf actors who will surely be back on our screens in a few years time.
In 'The Beach House' Deaf actor Alex Nowak had a starring role in a film about a man who returns home for the reading of his parents' will. It turns out that he's the only hearing member of the family, and is an outsider as a result. Nowak played one of the Deaf siblings in another impressive performance that marks him out as a Deaf actor to look out for. In the past few years he's worked with a variety of directors, both Deaf and hearing, showing off considerable range in the roles he's taken on.
There was also a host of foreign Deaf films shown during the afternoon. As with previous years, while the foreign Deaf films were enjoyable in parts, and strong in camerawork and acting, they were less notable for their storytelling and scripting. Too many of the films were predictable and seemed inspired by Hollywood horror films, with a supernatural element. British Deaf films do tend to win a lot of awards on the continent and perhaps this is the reason why.
Saturday evening ended with the announcement of the winner of the Ben Steiner bursary. Ted Evans (who directed 'The End' last year) went home with a huge cheque for £5000 to make a film that will be shown at next year's festival.
Along with a host of other Deaf filmmakers, Ted had been through a pitching process and the choice of him as the winner was clearly a popular choice. As well as the films, there was hilarious comedy from John Smith, and dancing from Deaf dancing group Def Motion, who did a Michael Jackson tribute act along with some 1950's dance moves, to fit in with the jubilee spirit.
All in all, a fantastic showcase for the talents of Deaf filmmakers and artists from across the UK. Bring on next year.