Diary of a Deaf Filmmaker, Month 12: The response to my film’s premiere at Deaffest

Posted on June 8, 2015

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teresa garratty

Last month my film The Quiet Ones had it’s world première at Deaffest, complete with a Q&A session with yours truly immediately after it screened. I’m quite pleased to report that I was not pelted with rotten tomatoes!

A few of the questions that cropped up were fairly predictable. It’s almost as if they were staged in advance…

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The main points that were raised were the lack of interpreter on screen and BSL not kept within the frame at all times. I’ve explained previously as to why this was here but lets have a quick recap.

Interpreters: Not all Deaf people rely on terps at all times, we have to get by without for various reasons. I wanted the characters to retain a sense of individualism and capability, having a terp seemed to detract from that a bit.

A terp means an extra actor which means extra expenses (we weren’t rolling in money!) and finally we had 15 mins of screen time, which I didn’t want to waste on a “prop character”.

At the end of the day we stuck by the rule that if it’s not adding anything to the story then it isn’t necessary. We weren’t making any statements about ATW or the General Election (wtf?!) and if you made those kind of connections yourself, then that’s quite a leap you took.

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BSL Framing: This is quite a hot topic when it comes to Deaf film making and it’s generally a choice between either limiting your shots to make all BSL accessible, or telling a story by directing the camera and actors.

I chose the latter, much to the disappointment of some viewers. One delightful woman even asked me “what are you doing here?” because of my framing choices.

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I have no issue with BSL on or off screen, but it’s not my first language so it didn’t take precedence in my film. Does that make the film rubbish and me any less of a Deaf film-maker?

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I also had to keep pointing out that this was not a film about communication, there are literally tons of Deaf films about communication and we wanted to give the audience something different, so communication took a back seat on this one. Soz.

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So those were the main criticisms some people had and a few of those questions were asked more than once. I think I could explain my creative decisions until I’m blue in the face but some people will just never understand.

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It wasn’t all doom and gloom though! We had a huge amount of positive feedback too with many people saying they loved the film and would gladly watch it again. This was brilliant news, but I started to notice something which I found a bit disturbing. Everyone who wanted to congratulate me, did so almost in secret.

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I then had quite a few comments on my bravery for choice of framing and facing the audience in the Q&A. One person even went as far to say that they didn’t appreciate the questions I was asked. I’d like to thank everyone who gave me feedback and encouragement at the festival, it was a huge relief to know that people had enjoyed the film.

However, I was also equally disappointed. I felt it was a great shame that some of those who wanted to praise the film felt that they had to do so “on the sly” and while they shared some of my views they seemed to believe that courage was needed to express them within the Deaf community, which when you think about it, is actually quite ridiculous.

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We should really be supportive of diversity and variety within the Deaf community, not bully and intimidate those who wish to try things differently. It’s clear that negativity towards deaf oral people is still rife within the community (I believe Dr Paddy Ladd covered this in a talk held at Deaffest, he probably has all the facts and a much better way of presenting them!) but there is absolutely no sense in replacing one set of oppression with another.

Not all the criticism was bad though, in fact some was extremely useful and made me wish I could go back and try out other things with the story. We talked about possibly “cheating” BSL to keep a bit more of it in the frame and ways that BSL could be used in place of the animated text that we used on screen. These were all interesting, constructive points and I made sure to keep mental notes of them all for the future.

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That’s not to say the experience has changed my personal views, I still stand firm on my opinions on how BSL can be presented on screen and that displaying a range of deaf characters is not only “allowed” but should be encouraged. Hopefully it will eventually give others the confidence to express themselves in similar ways and this “Deaf vs deaf” nonsense will become a thing of the past.

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The film is now off on the festival circuit and I’m interested to see how it’s received across the globe in both deaf and mainstream cinemas. Wish us luck and cross everything!

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