Alex Nowak: How I set up Sri Lanka’s first Deaf film festival!

Posted on October 17, 2014

British Deaf actor Alex Nowak recently set up Sri Lanka’s first deaf film festival in May. Here he tells the story:  

In February 2013, I visited the beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), a tear drop in the Indian Ocean. Little did I know how much I’d fall in love with the place.

I was volunteering at Rohana Specialist School in Matara city, south of Sri Lanka, for two months.

I was teaching young deaf children written English, basic Geography and drama; which led to an end of term performance.

At the school, I met Kasun Jayathunga, the president of Sumaga Ruhunu Circle of the Deaf; an organization that supports the needs of deaf people in Sri Lanka’s southern province. Me and Kasun immediately became very good friends and communicated regularly on my return to England.

I was messaging Kasun about how much I would love to go back to Sri Lanka. We exchanged ideas about supporting and encouraging the deaf community in Sri Lanka to thrive. One of my ideas was to set up a deaf film festival.

Kasun thought this was a brilliant idea, since Sri Lanka has never had a deaf film festival before. In March 2014, I jetted back out for a few months to get the preparations underway.

After several weeks of planning and hard work, the date for the event was set and the venue was decided. Sunday 25th May 2014 at the luxurious Hemalie Hotel and Reception Hall in Matara city, right opposite the Sumaga Ruhunu Circle of the Deaf organization.

Still from the introduction video with myself and Kasun. We had a laugh filming this!

Still from the introduction video with myself and Kasun. We had a laugh filming this!

We rented out one of the immaculate wedding rooms upstairs with air conditioning – absolutely brilliant; since it is around 80-90% humidity outside!

When the day finally arrived, I woke up nervous and got a taxi (more like a truck) to collect the massive speakers off Udaya, a friend of Kasun. The bumpy ride to Matara proved treacherous for the speakers as when we arrived at the venue, all the screws had unhinged and fell off during the journey!

We quickly had to find another speaker! The next few hours, me and the Sumaga Ruhunu Circle of the Deaf organization are frantically setting up the venue to perfection; the seating, lighting, projector, screen, stage, decorations, etc. Thankfully, we did find another speaker in the end!

As the 10:30am start is fast approaching, I see the gathering crowd outside. Me and Kasun are going through a quick rehearsal to make sure the event runs smoothly. By now, the chairs are starting to fill up and I see loads of deaf people signing away.

The audience

The audience


The adrenaline is pumping. I nudge Kasun… here goes! First to be shown was the introduction video between me and Kasun, the audience found it hilarious.

The first films shown were Confession by Julian Callo, Barfi by Anurag Basu and You Can Shine by Thanonchai Sornsriwichai. Barfi, an Indian romantic comedy-drama, shows the story of Murphy “Barfi”, a deaf man, and his relationship with two women. It certainly went down such a treat with the audience.

There was a 20 minute break and the hotel provided drinks for everyone. The lights go off again and we see a group of Sri Lankan deaf performers strutting their talent through mime, comedy sketches, dancing and transvestism to an excited audience.

The second lot of films shown were Dandelion by Igor Hristov, You, Me by Simon Herdman and The End by Ted Evans. The End, a docudrama that spans a 60 year period, charting the introduction of ‘the treatment’ and the subsequent decline of deaf culture, made the deafies question the possible reality of the situation.

The End being shown

The End being shown

There followed a question and answer session with various audience members getting up on the stage and expressing their thoughts and questions. Many of them said they felt the festival had opened their mind.

For someone to make a film for the first time, I suggested it’s a good idea to start small with pen and paper, create a small script, get a video camera and get a group of friends together to ‘act’ in the production.

Selfie with Kasun!

Selfie with Kasun!

As the event drew to a close, I couldn’t resist doing a few selfies with Kasun and the audience behind me! By mid-afternoon, Matara Deaf Film and Arts Festival 2014 drew to an end.

It was such a magical event. I’m extremely proud to be part of their community and give them their first deaf film festival.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the following for their efforts and support to make this event so successful: The Voice That Makes A Difference, Ahanna Video and Production House, Rajitha Viduransi, Sumaga Ruhunu Circle of the Deaf, Hemalie Hotel and Reception Hall, Deaffest, Kelum Samarawickrama and Kasun Jayathunga.”

Check out the Facebook page for the festival here:

Alex Nowak is a British deaf actor, who uses both speech and British Sign Language in his roles. He has appeared in various films, including The End, and more recently was announcing TV programmes on Channel 4. Alex is currently the Young Deaffest ambassador for Deaffest Film Festival. 

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