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March 3, 2003

Deaf film festival allows equal footing for everyone

From: The Daily Northwestern - 03 Mar 2003

Planners ensure all moviegoers can participate; first for deaf in Evanston

By Amy Rushlow
March 03, 2003

By the time the deaf can see the latest movies -- usually when they come out captioned on DVD several months after their theatrical release -- they are already old news. But at the Festival of Cinema for the Deaf , held at Evanston's Century Theatres over the weekend, the hearing impaired could watch captioned selections ranging from foreign short films to the recent release "Daredevil" on the big screen.

"(The festival) is a monumental event in the deaf community," said Susan Martin, a student in Columbia College's interpreter training program. "Think of how many times we go to movies and don't think twice about being able to see the latest movie, with the popcorn and the theater.

"The deaf community doesn't have that."

The film festival screened short films, documentaries and full-length features -- including another recent release, "The Jungle Book 2" -- at Century, 1715 Maple Ave., and the Esquire Theater in Chicago. The event was held for the first time last year at the Esquire, but organizers expanded it to Evanston this year.

"The response was really big and there was a lot of support from the North Shore community (last year)," said Ian McDermott, a festival intern.

Festival planners made sure all the films were accessible to all moviegoers, not just those with an interest in deaf issues.

On Saturday night, deaf filmmaker Robert Hoskin used American Sign Language to tell the audience about the four short films in the set he directed after they were delayed due to technical difficulties.

"Someone please translate," one audience member asked, and a woman began to translate what Hoskin was signing into speech.

"It's kind of cool that we're in a situation where normally, we have to translate for them, but here, they have to translate for us," audience member Heather Towb said.

Symantha Magid, who also helped translate Hoskin's comments, said the festival "gives the hearing community an opportunity to experience deaf culture."

"Hopefully, through the interaction within the people that are attending, both cultures will open their eyes," said Magid, who has studied sign language for four years. "A lot of times the hearing world is so ignorant of that, and they see it as a disability and not a culture."

The support the festival draws from both deaf and non-deaf residents is partially due to programmers' desire to show movies that appeal to wide audiences, rather than just the deaf, said Joshua Flanders, the executive director of the Chicago Institute of the Moving Image, the group that presented the festival.

"There's movies about those groups of people and then there's those movies about those people and by those people and for those people," Flanders said.

One documentary, "Fed Up," featured deaf and hearing actors using sign language, but it was about four survivors of abusive relationships.

"There was a lot of cultural stuff (in the documentary), not just deaf culture," said Ted Hyrons, a Glasgow, Scotland resident fluent in Dutch Sign Language.

© 2003 The Daily Northwestern