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Deaf shorts – a sign of the times

There are about 9,000 culturally-deaf people in New Zealand, yet we make hardly any films featuring deaf or hearing-impaired characters or performers. Recently there have been some amazing deaf-related films released overseas and at home (A Quiet Place starring the brilliant deaf actress Millicent Simonds, Tama featuring a deaf Maori boy who performs a spell-binding silent haka), so we thought it was a good moment for us to highlight some of our favourite short films relating to the deaf community.

Each of the following three short films feature well-developed characters who are not defined by their deafness. The narratives are a combination of funny, moving, empowering and terrifying. Put your headphones on and listen closely, as the sound design is fantastic!

Love is Blind

My absolute favourite of the 2015 Show Me Shorts Film Festival is now available to watch online! You can thank me later. Love is Blind offers a fresh take on the classic love triangle story. An absolute cracker filled with a breathless energy right from the first shot!

The writing and direction from filmmaker Dan Hodgson is on point. He nails the physical comedy, along with some quite tense moments, thanks to smart use of both of sign language and verbal dialogue. The cast performances are superb too, especially ‘lover’ Will Best. And even though she’s caught in murky waters, you can’t help but fall for Sophie Allen’s character.

Love is Blind is completely rewatchable – to catch the little touches that make this short sing. It’s no wonder this was nominated for the Palme D’Or at Cannes.

Dawn of the Deaf

The premise of Dawn of the Deaf offers that elusive fresh take on a zombie flick! An unknown sound infects hearing people leaving only the deaf to survive. There is much more than just a monster lurking in this whip-smart story though.

Writer/director Rob Savage’s award-winning short film balances buckets of blood with heart-breaking moments of humanity among its four parallel narratives. For Savage respecting the deaf community was paramount, creating “characters not defined by their deafness”, and an empowering narrative. Taking notes from the likes of 28 Days Later, he makes the £7,000 shoestring budget look a million bucks. Especially with the stunning closing subway shot. But it’s the meticulous sound design – focusing on the impact of bass for deaf viewers – that draws you in and surprises.

Dawn of the Deaf is a delicious and frustrating short that leaves you begging for more. I have my fingers crossed that Savage’s plans for a feature film come to fruition!

This is Normal

Sit back and relax. You are in for a case of the feels. This is Normal is a gorgeously shot film about a woman who risks losing her friends and even her identity when she opts to ‘cure’ her deafness with an experimental procedure. Note we switch to American Sign Language here as opposed to British in the previous two.

The film is written and directed by Justin Giddings and Ryan Welsh.  Hearing actress, Ryann Turner (Weeds) does great work conveying the character’s trials. She is matched by successful deaf actor Russell Harvard (There Will Be Blood, Fargo). Credit is also due to Emmy-nominated sound editor Scott C. Kolden for a captivating soundscape.

While researching this story Giddings and Welsh discovered a Pandora’s box of controversy surrounding cochlear technology. They also realised that despite being outsiders, “this was a story that could resonate with all sorts of audiences”. Interestingly they sometimes intentionally blur the subtitles from hearing people, and chunks of the film have zero audio. The result clearly puts deaf viewers first, yet manages to open this world up to a hearing audience.