Simon Savory: Why I’ve programmed films at New Queer Visions that show the deaf experience (10th June)

Posted on June 8, 2017


Subtitles were not just a normal part of growing up for a kid with Deaf parents, they were a blessing. Subconsciously reading while, shock horror, watching TV, meant that in spelling I was top of the class.

Mis-pressing ‘888’ on the remote control would lead to inadvertent discoveries on Teletext, such as mind-enriching ‘My neighbour ate my cat’ regional news stories or addictive gaming on Bamboozle.

Meanwhile, the multi-coloured chat-up lines from each contestant on ‘Blind Date’ added a whole new layer of camp to Cilla’s pink-hued ‘lorras’.

But there were irritations, too. Like when the stenographer typing away at BBC Centre couldn’t catch up with the newsreaders, or simply nodded off, hands splurging across the keyboard, spraying screens up and down the country with bizarre symbols that wouldn’t look out of place on an Egyptian heiroglyph.

Subtitles were a way for both me, my brother and my parents to enjoy films and television programmes together, in a way hearing families could not.

Silent Laughs dir. Natalia Kouneli

And then, as always, you grow up, move away, forget. You notice change. Subtitles are also called Closed Captions. Typetalk is now the much uncooler sounding Text Relay. Disability Living Allowance is now called Personal Independence Payment. You learn that not all change is good.

I started New Queer Visions, a sort of film festival sidebar, as a response to what I saw as the growing trend of LGBTQ film festivals programming films for the L, the G, the B, the T and the Q – separately.

With a background working in film distribution and production that was an umbrella for all things Queer, and knowing that there was always room to innovate in a society that was increasingly curious and hungry for fresh voices in film, it seemed like a good idea to create a venue for showcasing films from around the world that wouldn’t otherwise get shown, especially as so many more short films are made now than ever before. 

Sign dir. Andrew Keenan-Bolger

Recently, in trawling through submissions, film festival programmes and the World Wide Web, stories about the deaf queer experience started to emerge and cluster.

This was pretty exciting stuff for someone whose only exposure to a Deaf character in mainstream film was Hugh Grant’s brother in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ (David Bower), and for whom the only short film about the Deaf Queer experience pre-Millenium Dome was Jade Bryan’s ‘Cutting the Edge of a Free Bird’.

Whatsmore, not only were these films infusing broader genres such as horror (‘Dawn of the Deaf’ dir. Rob Savage) and comedy (‘Hold Music’ dir. Michael McNeely, ‘Silent Laughs’ dir. Natalia Kouneli) into the mix, they avoid the tropes we so often see attached to disability on screen, mainly via ad-sponsored ‘Kleenex moments’ otherwise known as inspiration porn.

Cutting the Edge of a Free Bird

In an age where making a short film is not as technically intimidating or expensive as it once was, more voices are able to gain access to a camera. On the other hand, getting these stories to audiences is another challenge.

In a country where even publicly funded screening venues look to the bottom line or keeping distributor relationships cushty at the expense of letting fresh voices be heard, it is becoming increasingly difficult for non-mainstream films and programming to break through to the surface. Profit or principle? You only have to look to Paris, with a cinema count that is triple that of London’s, to see how it could have been.


Hold Music dir. Michael McNeely

So, all the more reason to celebrate what we have. The Rio cinema in Dalston is one of the very few independent cinemas in London that openly supports film festivals, alternative programming, and the exhibition of independent films outside of Hollywood fare.

The East End Film Festival, which is hosting New Queer Visions this June, is one of the most exciting places to catch films you otherwise would never get a chance to see. I thank both them and the Rio for hosting ‘Sign of the Times’.

‘New Queer visions: Sign of the Times’, screens at the Rio Cinema, Dalston on Saturday June 10th at 3.45pm. All films will be screened with HoH subtitles, followed by a filmmaker Q&A with BSL interpreter.

Simon is a film director and programmer who is part of the founding team of discovery platform

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