The annual Deaffest film festival takes place in Wolverhampton starting tonight.
The good and great of Britain’s creative deaf community and film fans will converge on the Lighthouse Centre for three days of films, drama workshops and drinking.
Ahead of this year’s event, I caught up with Ted Evans, last year’s winner in the Best Director category for his film ‘The End’, to ask him what the year was like for Deaf film-making. Has it been a year to remember?
“Well personally I feel we’ve seen a mini drought with deaf films due to the fact the BSLBT’s Zoom Short Film Scheme was absent last year but thankfully it has returned and we will be seeing some new shorts later this autumn” he said.
“What I’m really excited about is a feature film called The Tribe, which is entirely in Sign Language and will have its world premiere at Cannes on the 21st of May. Although it is a Ukrainian film with a hearing director, it is a big deal for us in the UK because it sees a film, predominantly about Deaf people and with Deaf actors, taken to the biggest film festival in the world. Can Deaf films be part of World Cinema? We will have a better idea when this film is received by the industry.”
How The Tribe is received by critics at Cannes will be watched with interest by Ted and Deaf filmmakers around the world. The Tribe doesn’t have subtitles so it will be entirely down to the audience to figure out what’s going but judging by the promotional pictures, that shouldn’t be too difficult! What of Deaf films in general – does Ted think they can go mainstream?
“I have said before that I see no reason why Deaf films, which are essentially just films in another language, can’t be part of world cinema. We are not aliens; people can empathise with our characters, our culture and our stories. I truly believe it can happen, we just need to see Deaf films made at a high quality and on a par with the mainstream.”
Some young film making talent will be on show at Deaffest this year; talent drawn from a more tech-savvy generation that has grown up with computer technology and isn’t afraid to use it. Occasionally they still turn to Ted for the kind of advice that Google can’t give.
“From time to time people email me for advice and show me clips of their work and I can already see the next generation of filmmakers coming through. From what I can see there will be much more technical filmmakers, kids who have grown up with the equipment and software that enables them to do crazy things, things we weren’t able to do at their age. The key for them is to learn how to use these skills in telling stories. It’s all very well making things look cool but a film is essentially a story and it is very hard to come up with quality ideas and then take them from page to screen.”
“I’ve worked briefly with the likes of Teresa Garratty who has been involved in other people’s projects and has made a short film already (Admit None). At the BBC, I worked with Erika Jones who was my researcher on a couple of projects. She has just directed an item and I think she too will also go on to be a quality filmmaker. They are definitely ones to watch along with quite a few others out there who are involved and with lots of potential.”
There seems to be much to look forward to from those behind the camera but what of those in front of it? Which actors in the British deaf film scene really stand out?
“Sophie Stone is easily the most professional actress I have worked with and I learnt a great deal from her. I’m also very excited about Brian Duffy and Adam Bassett who I have worked with in recent years. I have worked with Duffy on two films to date; he has a very interesting presence on screen and every time I’m left wanting to see more of his character. I think the best of Duffy is still to come.
“Adam Bassett for me has an incredible amount of talent. In everything I have seen him in, he has been a completely different human being and that is what I want from an actor, to see someone different each time.
“He is versatile and has played a very dynamic range of characters in recent years (The Vanishing, Deafinitely Theatre’s Love Labours Lost and Retreat) If Adam puts in the hard work and pulls out all the stops, there’s no limit to what he could achieve.”
Adam Basset can be seen at Deaffest in Charlie Swinbourne’s new film, Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool which is screening on Friday night. Ted hasn’t got a film at Deaffest this year but it has been a successful year with awards coming his way for his most recent project Retreat. So what of the future for Ted – can we expect to see his work on the big screen again soon?
“There are a couple of ideas I have on the go at the moment that might happen but it depends on a lot of factors. I’m honoured to be talking with some very cool people at the moment but who knows what is around the corner. The long term goal is to make feature films, that is still the dream.”
Deaffest is on from Friday 16th to 18th May at the Lighthouse Centre in Wolverhampton. For more information about Deaffest and tickets, visit their website.
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