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May 18, 2004

Deaf or not, we'll glean lessons from film festival

From: Press Herald - Portland,ME,USA - May 18, 2004

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

A young deaf guy is dancing at a nightclub when a pretty woman approaches and whispers something in his ear.

Not wanting to reveal he can't hear a thing she's saying, the young man just smiles and nods. He finds out later that she wasn't whispering sweet nothings - but that his fly was unzipped.

The wry message behind "Chronic Embarrassment" - a short British comedy that is among more than 30 films in the 2nd Annual Maine Deaf Film Festival being held Saturday at the University of Southern Maine - is that open and honest communication is best. And, in a sense, that's what the film festival itself is all about.

"This festival is a wonderful place for the deaf community to come together to celebrate our culture and heritage," said Roxanne Baker, co-founder of the festival. But Baker, who is deaf, said the festival also is for the hearing, and can help build a bridge of understanding between the hearing and deaf worlds. "These films investigate inter-cultural issues from a unique perspective," she said.

Festival-goers shouldn't expect "Children of a Lesser God," to be shown, warns Baker, an American Sign Language instructor at USM who also is an actress. That 1986 film, starring William Hurt and Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress, is about a hearing teacher who works to bring out the potential in his deaf students.

"Those aren't the kind of films we're including," said Baker, who determined two years ago that Maine's deaf community needed access to independent, deaf-made films. "They're part of the hearing world, not deaf culture."

The films in the festival, from a range of countries including Australia, Nepal, Israel and Japan, open a window on the world of the deaf - and do it in a variety of ways. Festival-goers can laugh, cry and learn while viewing some of the best that a growing number of talented deaf filmmakers and actors and actresses are producing worldwide.

One particularly touching film is an award-winning short Japanese drama called "Chance for Love." An argument between a deaf couple about how the husband gets his wife's attention when her back is turned - by stomping on the floor in a commanding way - escalates into a stark re-examination of their marriage.

Baker said deaf people can make use of the vibrations that result from slapping a table or stamping on the floor to get someone's attention, but it can be impolite if done in a jarring way.

Vibrations from the music at a dance club help deaf people pick up the beat to dance, as seen in the hip "Chronic Embarrassment" comedy about three deaf friends who like to party. "The idea that deaf people go to nightclubs, that deaf people dance, that's something that people don't know," said David Crespo, a festival organizer. He is a hearing man who works with the deaf.

Another film is a spoof of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," called "Reservoir Wolves." It proves that it's possible to wield a gun while communicating in sign language at the same time.

Also shown at the festival - and for the first time in the United States - will be an award-winning film from Nepal, "Golden Rays," about deaf culture in that country. Producer Krishna Prashad Shrestha and screenwriter Dev Raj Gurung will attend the screening, traveling more than 7,000 miles to get here. They'll speak about their film and efforts to help deaf people in Nepal.

Many of the films have musical soundtracks and in a few cases contain spoken language by hearing actors and actresses. The films also have English subtitles for those who don't understand what the actors are signing. In the foreign films, most deaf people in the audience will have to rely on the subtitles too because sign in other languages, such as Japanese, is very different from American Sign Language. Even British Sign Language has some signs that have meanings that are different from the same signs in ASL, Baker said.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791- 6367 or at:


The 2nd Annual Maine Deaf Film Festival will be held Saturday at the University of Southern Maine Science Building on Falmouth Street in Portland. The afternoon session runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.; the evening session is from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Seating is limited, so advance purchase of tickets is strongly recommended. If purchased by Thursday, tickets for adults are $10 per session and $15 for both sessions. After that date, the cost of a double session ticket will be $20.

For students,seniors and children ages 6-17, tickets are $7 for one session. Double session tickets for that group, if purchased by Thursday, are $12, but are $14 after that date.

Tickets canbe purchased at the Student Involvement Desk of the USM Woodbury Campus Center on Bedford Street; at the Maine Center on Deafness at 68 Bishop St. in Portland (797-7656 voice/TTY or 1- 800 -639-3884 (voice/TTY outside Portland); or by mail from DFF c/o USM ASL Lab (by mail), 68 High St., Portland, Maine 04102

Make checkspayable to: ASL Club DFF.

The eventis a co-production of the USM Linguistics Department and the USM ASL Club, with support from the USM Board of Student Organizations. For more information, visit or e-mail:

Copyright © Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.