Where do I begin to round up the events of last night’s screening of Deaf Jam at Bella Union? What a night! I can only begin to express the overwhelming gratitude I feel, not only for the huge turnout of people from both the Deaf and spoken word communities who came along to watch this extraordinary film and take part in the conversation, but for the mammoth effort and contribution of so many incredible individuals who helped make it happen. Creating an event that attempts to bring together individuals from two different cultural and linguistic backgrounds requires a great deal of consultation, preparation and logistical support. From an organiser’s point of view I can tell you, this has been a deeply rewarding and enriching experience from which I have learned a lot.
Firstly, massive thanks and round of applause for the efforts of both our highly skilled and dedicated sign language interpreters Nicole Maher and Maxine Buxton who provided the bridge that allowed communication between the hearing and non-hearing members of our panel and speakers to occur. Translating the spoken English language into a visual one for the Deaf and the visual sign language of Auslan into a spoken one for the hearing, is a complex and highly demanding job that commands my deepest respect.
Without them, the conversation could not occur, the connections could not be made and the resulting potential collaboration between the Deaf and Slam Poetry communities could not eventuate. That’s a pretty crucial role! I have to thank Lynn Gordon for her expert consulting advice and for helping me to connect with Maxine and Nicole. And prior to that I have to thank Rick Randall, Director of The Other Film Festival who provided enormous support in both promoting the event, helping me to connect with the panellists and for hooking me up with Lynn. Prior to that I have to thank my fellow SSE student Jen Sharman for hooking me up with Rick in the first place. This is testament to the power of networks and open collaboration and sharing!
A last minute inclusion to the program (though it had been in the pipe works for weeks) was the delightful presence of the films’ lead character Aneta Brodski and Director Judy Lieff who Skyped in from New York, in the early hours of the morning, to answer audience questions. What an honor to have them both there and what a wonderful opportunity for the audience to engage with Aneta, after having just been captivated by her boldness and courage, spirit, humour and passion for poetry.
With a mighty twist much like in the tradition of the documentary, Aneta’s sign language interpreter did not show up, to translate at her end! As though the logistics of a Skype hook up with an American Deaf person whose sign language differs from Australian sign language, wasn’t both technically and linguistically complex enough, the communication could not have occurred if it weren’t for the 2 amazing deaf audience members who fortunately for everyone knew American Sign Language (ASL). We could not have relayed questions to Aneta nor received her answers without Stephanie Linder and Tannie Wolstenholme who came forth and generously offered to translate Aneta’s ASL into Australian sign language (Auslan) and then relay it our Interpreters who could translate it into English (confused yet?!) Yes it was truly spectacular to watch the relaying of information that occurred!
If THAT wasn’t enough we had the honour of having in the audience, Aneta’s grandmother, aunt and other family members who live in Melbourne and saw the film for the first time! I will never forget the vision of them huddled around my laptop shedding tears of joy and praise for Aneta and her role in the film (and in their lives). And then to see Aneta on the big screen blowing kisses and crying at the sheer joy of having her long distant family’s presence and support was magical!
Now for the panel. The amazing panel consisted of respected leaders from both the Deaf and Slam Poetry communities here in Melbourne – Ross, Onley –Zerkel, Medina Sumovic, Walter Kadiki, Michelle Dabrowski and Luka Lesson. Thank you for coming together and being so passionate, open and sharing in regards to what each can offer in terms of future collaborations. This discussion has set in motion the potential for exciting projects to emerge that could see Deaf poets taking in part in local Slam Poetry nights and workshops to bring together hearing and Deaf poets. The beauty and importance of fostering hearing and deaf poetry performances collaborations was not only exemplified in the film but also heartfully embraced by all the panel members. I can’t tell you what a highlight and buzz it was to see Ross (Deaf), get up off his chair, walk across the stage to Luka (hearing) and hand him his business card! I am sure that when these brilliant minds and generous hearts get together, an explosion of creative energy will emerge!
Now for the “Butterfly Hands”poem. Thank you Walter, Medina and Ross for performing this important piece of poetry in your beautiful and expressive language for us all to absorb and appreciate. To watch the performance in silence and distil its message without the English interpretation was priceless. Performing it a second time with the English translation was equally tantalising. Inviting us on the stage to perform it on our own for a third round was truly spectacular! And I’m proud of myself for getting up there and having a go. To actually physically embody the poem added yet another element for me.
Now for our MC. I have to thank Tina Jenson, our incredible MC for once again bringing her unique perspective and contribution not only to the stage but for her preparation prior to the night. Before even stepping onto the stage Tina put in a mammoth effort, in creating a scripted version of her planned communication. The importance of this cannot be underestimated in helping the interpreters do their job. I feel compelled to share with you part of her opening address to the audience.
“Ok, I’m just a little bit excited about this screening. I grew up with an uncle who was born profoundly deaf and unable to speak, so I’ve experienced firsthand how being deaf impacts not just the individual, but their family members and entire life. Having a heightened sense of touch, he could fix anything with his hands, and I was only recalling to Angie the other day how my grandfather never learned to sign, using my grandmother to pass on messages.
It is certainly true that deafness is a difference in human experience rather than a disability to be corrected.
What excites me is that through tonight’s Arts in Action Premiere of Deaf Jam, you too will be able to play witness to the experience of being thrown into a world where you do not speak the same language as well as providing a window for you all into an extraordinary art form.”
Tina, you could not have said it better! Thanks for your warmth, insight and commitment to helping make the night a success.
In her closing address she left us with this gem..
“For all of us, communication and self-confidence are crucial to success in life. Empowerment lies in emphasising what is unique to oneself. Tonight we’ve seen a remarkable film that encapsulates these thoughts and inspires us to create, express and move ourselves into action. We’d like to send you all off with some inspiration to find your own uniqueness.”
Thank you Tina for reminding us all (and making us repeat after you) “NOBODY HAS WHAT I HAVE”
Lastly, huge thanks to our 2 lovely volunteer Auslan students, Annelies Streulens and Lana Schwarcz who assisted with the front of house, as well as all the Bella Union bar, office and technical staff for their usual warm and professional services. To see all the amazing photos from the night taken by Richard Piscioneri, visit the Arts in Action facebook page. Richard is one of the best visual storytellers I know we are very lucky to have him as our official photographer. (He’s a great poet too).
Whilst I’m a touch sad that this is over, I am now looking forward and CANNOT WAIT for September’s Other Film Festival (19th-23rd ) at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall. If you loved Deaf Jam, The Other Film Festival offers a full program of authentic and compelling films that explores the diverse experiences of disability, mental illness and being Deaf. All films are Captioned and Audio Described, and all events are Auslan interpreted, so everyone can enjoy the films, and take part in forums and Q&As with directors, actors and international guests. Yes I’m there!
As for next month’s Social Action Film Night, 26th July stay tuned for details of Dive! http://www.divethefilm.com/
Till then…. *Raising my arms in Deaf Applause