Filmmaker Profile – Judy Lieff DEAF JAM

Deaf Jam’s Director Judy Lieff shares her vision, inpiration and what she learnt in the process of creating this extraordinary documentary. Fim screens Thursday 28th June @ Bella Union.


Director’s Statement

I am thrilled to be sharing Deaf Jam with you. It has been a long and interesting journey bringing this project to fruition, and meeting Aneta Brodski—the deaf teenager who joined me on this journey—has made it all the more rewarding.

The idea for Deaf Jam began while I was a visiting artist teaching video/dance workshops to deaf high school students at Marlton School in Los Angeles. During one of my residencies, my students created video poems and I became privy to the extraordinary world of American Sign Language Poetry. I also was invited to a crowded teen poetry slam that was bursting with enthusiasm and talent. It occurred to me that it would be great if deaf poets were involved in that exciting youth movement filled with honest self-expression and political awareness.

I learned that few, if any, deaf poets had ever participated in the slams. In fact, most hearing teen poets I spoke to had never seen ASL poetry but were intrigued by the language. In the midst of my research I met Steve Zeitlin, Executive Director of City Lore, and  Liz Wolter, a literature and English teacher at Lexington School for the Deaf. City Lore, a non-profit organization, was in the midst of producing a biennial poetry festival in Manhattan that included Deaf poets and ASL scholars. Liz had been facilitating ASL poetry electives at Lexington school, bringing in renowned poets, and producing some video poetry projects in collaboration with New York City poet guru, Bob Holman. Through Liz and the umbrella of City Lore, the Deaf Jam project and documentary moved forward.

What I learned in the process of making this film was that most deaf students have not been exposed to ASL poetry—an engaging and creative form of expression—and that many deaf students are born into hearing families where sign language is not practiced. What began as a mission to bring together hearing and deaf teens through poetry became an initiative to revitalize an endangered art form.

As you experience the film, I hope you will be inspired by Aneta’s bravery and perseverance in pursuing her convictions. Completing a documentary often takes years; in this case, it took 10 years from start to finish. As we pushed through the editing process, Aneta’s passionate personality became a driving force.

One could say that ASL poetry is truly an American art form and part of our cultural heritage. To quote Bob Holman: “The poetry needs to be seen in order to take its place in the World of Poetries.” It is my hope that Deaf Jam will contribute to making that a reality. Inspired by the making of the film, a monthly ASL slam night was established at the Bowery Poetry Club by Robert Arnold, a colleague of one the project mentors. That series began six years ago. Doug Ridloff has continued to carry the torch and hosts the monthly series that is now simultaneously webcast on the first Friday of the month.

Communication and self-confidence are crucial to success in life, and empowerment lies in emphasizing what is unique to oneself. For the Deaf, many educational systems are focused on merging the Deaf into the hearing world without providing education about their cultural identity. I hope this film will inspire a new generation of deaf poets and provide a window—for you, the audience—into an extraordinary art form.

Thank you for watching Deaf Jam. I hope you enjoy the film.

Judy Lieff


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