Andy Palmer: 6 clips from deaf films that will teach you about deaf people’s lives

Posted on January 21, 2018

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In my last job I used to train new recruits working for the nation’s largest deafness charity, Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID), on a whole range of topics to do with deafness.

Occassionally, I’d show film clips by some of the UK’s fantastic deaf filmmakers during training sessions to illustrate important points.


Because woven into these clips are enlightening messages that help people understand deaf people and their lives on a more meaningful level.

Here are six of them – just click on the film names to see the clips.

1. They may seem fine, but mainstream educated deaf children can feel very isolated

My song

My Song | Time of clip: 4:30

Ellen, the central character in My Song (written by Charlie Swinbourne and directed by William Mager), is walking with her friends towards college. She can smile, she can nod, she can talk, but can she really understand what her friends are actually saying?

Probably not.

Understanding what that isolation must feel like every single day brings you closer to understanding the experience of tens of thousands of UK deaf children in mainstream education.

2. Four deaf people. Four different ‘cure’ viewpoints.

The End

The End | Time 07:30

In The End (directed by Ted Evans), a cure is developed for deafness and is administered to or rejected by four teenagers.

We get to see the outcome and can ponder which had the better life experience as a result.

An underlying point here is that what is good for one deaf person is not necessarily good for all deaf people.

This truth is clearly manifest in the real world but often missed by newcomers or professionals blinded by one particular way of thinking.

3. How sign language has a different structure to English

Four Deaf Yorkshiremen

Four Deaf Yorkshiremen | Time 6:15

To illustrate sign language’s use of expression, body language, humour and grammar, Four Deaf Yorkshiremen (written and directed by this site’s editor, Charlie Swinbourne) is the best choice.

The subtitles illustrate how each movement conveys language – and it’s funny.

The film also shows how the structure of BSL differs from that of English.

After 6.15, John Smith’s character reveals he had a secret. The actual signs he uses are ‘more .. me secret what?’ but the English subtitle reads ‘There’s more .. we had a secret’.

It nicely introduces BSL’s grammatical structure and the film as a whole is a celebration of sign language storytelling.

4. Isolation is a torture suffered by many elderly deaf people

Who cares

Who Cares? | Time 17:37

Isolation is a term often associated with hearing loss and deafness.

Far from being therapeutic time alone, the isolation suffered by Beatrice in Who Cares? (directed by Camilla Arnold) is a form of careless torture that society should be rid of by now.

As a nation, some would say we provide better care for violent criminals.

5. Poor communication has serious consequences for families


Strangers | Time 8:20

I never actually plucked up the courage to play this clip to a training group because people would start crying.

During its 11-minutes, Strangers (directed by Brian Duffy) sears into the memory.

The message is simple: If you underestimate how important communication with deaf children is, then you’ll live with the consequences.

The point is also made that uninformed parents should be wary of advice from busy teachers of the deaf.

6. Many people are proud to be deaf

Coming out

Coming out | Time 03:00

Making the training group laugh was important because they were prone to nod off during the afternoon session about flashing doorbells and vibrating stopwatches.

Coming Out (written by Charlie Swinbourne and directed by Louis Neethling) pokes a little fun at the ‘Deaf world’ but the message is that some people take pride in their deaf identity and embrace it as a way of life.

The psychological freedom that comes with acceptance is also portrayed.

In the clip, David gets a little over-excited about what his hearing aids represent, but there can be no denying many people are positive about their deafness.

My trainees found this concept surprisingly easy to grasp and maybe that’s because, in the end, we all can appreciate the good that comes from being positive, especially about ourselves.

Andy Palmer is the hearing father of a Deaf son, and is also a child of Deaf parents. He is Managing Director of the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association.


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