January 2023 - NOW SHOWING: Stories featuring deaf community take center stage at Slamdance
Over the past two years, representation has been a strong focus in Hollywood - the need to see ourselves on-screen is necessary. The Slamdance Film Festival found that important theme with the deaf and hard of hearing community with the premiere of three films - Millstone, Sign the Show, and ELSA. Learn more about these three outstanding films.
Everyone experiences grief. It is a human condition that we cannot escape. Imagine tragically losing a child and all the feelings that entail - a moment like that can destroy marriages and relationships. But what if you could have the ability to erase the experience like it never happened? That is the topic in Peter Hoffman Kimball's new short film, Millstone, premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival this month. Millstone is the story of a married couple who suffers the tragic loss of their child. The grief is too much too bare, building anger and resentment between them and eroding their marriage. In a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, they meet with a therapist who has an experimental therapy that might be the answer to their prayers. But, as the old saying goes - it sounds too good to be true - rings loudly in this case, making the process worse than the memories. He explores these themes in his short film, Millstone, premiering at Slamdance Film Festival in January. Kimball's idea behind the film was to see the lengths a person will go to handle grief. "This film is about a married couple torn apart by grief and desperate to do something to find a resolution and to feel better. There is a line in the film that is something to the extent of - the hardest part of this is that no one else understands what you're going through, and even the two of you aren't dealing with this the same way," says Kimball. "And that was the core idea. To what lengths will grief drive us? I haven't gone through the experiences specifically depicted in the film. But, as a father, I have dealt with the fear and powerlessness that comes with seeing bad things happen to children or worrying about even worse things happening. I think that by taking our biggest fears and putting them on the screen, not feeling weighed down by them anymore."
In creating this short, one thing Kimball wanted was an all-deaf cast. "I am hearing, but my son is deaf, and it's important to me that he sees people like him on the screen. My son is four, and I don't want him watching Millstone anytime soon. But I want there to be more stories with deaf characters played by deaf actors and more stories in sign language," shared Kimball. "I think it's important that those stories not always be about deafness and not always be uplifting and inspirational. I would love to see a wide range of stories told in sign language. I just shot my first feature film, a dark comedy called "I'll Sleep When You're Dead," which is entirely in sign language. That will be coming out later in 2023. The story of Millstone doesn't have to do with deafness, but that was precisely the point." Learn more about Millstone at millstonethemovie.com.
SIGN THE SHOW
School teacher, Cat Brewer, is a fan of music. She loves attending concerts. But, a concent lead to a conversation with a translator would change everything for Brewer. She learned that the entertainment field lacks access for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The experience inspired her to direct her first-ever documentary, Sign The Show, premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival opening night. Brewer, who shared an estimated 40 million individuals are deaf or hear of hearing, expressed that access has been an issue for a very long time. "There is a rich and long history of oppression of the Deaf Community, and they faced challenges, especially in the Black, Deaf Community. Even more oppression and segregation than white deaf people. Kelly Clarkson says in the film - If you don't have a deaf member in your family, or you don't know anyone who's deaf, you just don't think about it." The more Brewer understood, the more she wanted to be an advocate.
The documentary has an all-star cast sharing their thoughts on the subject, including Clarkson, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Tony, Toni, Tone, Nyle Dimarco, and the lead singer of Train, Pat Monahan. Brewer shared, to get those names, she didn't take no for an answer. "I call myself the Queen of Follow-Up. So I had a one-year DM conversation with Chuck D before I got an interview with him. I don't take no for an answer - unless it’s a hard no - then I understand and I back away, but I would stand outside venues and like wait for the artist to come out and be like, can I have 30 seconds of your time?" The tenacity paid off and opened a dialogue with some big name in the entertainment industry on this topic. After everything is said and done, Brewer hopes that her overall goal is met. "I want there to be a cultural shift in entertainment so that open access is the norm for a more inclusive world,” shared Brewer. “I don't want deaf people to call or email and request an interpreter. I want a venue, promoter - or put some onus on the artist to say, Hey! I'm putting this in my rider." Learn more about Sign The Show at their website signtheshow.com.
Every community has its heroes. The deaf and hard of hearing community has one in Elsa Sjunneson, the subject of the documentary short ELSA premiering opening night of the Slamdance Film Festival. ELSA is the first film PBS American Masters has produced that solely features a contemporary DeafBlind subject. Produced by disabled filmmakers, it was commissioned to provide context for current issues related to DeafBlind individuals and disability in conjunction with the PBS film, "American Masters: Becoming Helen Keller." Director Cameron Mitchell hopes that the film can be an inspiration to the community. "I hope this documentary can change perceptions of Deafblindness and help others feel empowered. I also hope it shows how we can feature disabled individuals without fetishizing them or instrumentalizing them for able-bodied people."
Elsa Sjunneson is a professor, media critic, skilled fencer, hiker, and published author. She is also a winner of the Hugo Award and the Aurora Award. She's written for Marvel Comics' first Women of Marvel and the Magic the Gathering universe. Through her work as a disability and Queer rights activist, Elsa wants to change people's misconception of the DeafBlind community and show them as loud, capable, strong people. Sjunneson understands the importance of representation and knows that showcasing her talents will break down misconceptions. "It's important to me to work in the genre because I want there to be disabled people in the future. I want us to imagine disabled people in the future. I want to be in the future." ELSA is available on the PBS video app and Youtube page at https://youtu.be/ZxuxpCPG0-Q.