The Deaf Film Festival at the University of Southern Maine is celebrating an anniversary this year. This month the festival will round off its tenth year. Ten years ago USM Linguistics faculty member Brenda Schertz, who is Deaf, started the Deaf Film Institute as a summer class at USM, and with the support of the ASL (American Sign Language) Club, a small two-day event turned into the world’s longest running annual Deaf film festival.
Schertz and Linguistics Department staff member Esther Lee-Samia say that in the beginning they had to depend on international movies, because there were fewer American filmmakers exploring Deaf Culture. Now, even though few Deaf filmmakers make a living full time, there are more of them, and there are more American films to choose from.
This year’s featured film is “The Hammer”, directed by Oren Kaplan and written by Joseph McKelheer and Eben Kostbar. It tells the story of Matt Hamill’s fight to become the first Deaf wrestler to win the National Collegiate Wrestling Championship. The role of Matt Hamill is played by Deaf actor Russell Harvard, a graduate of Gallaudet University. The film has not been shown in Maine yet, and Schertz says it is about accepting the Deaf identity.
The audience will also see some humor at the festival. Schertz and Lee-Samia say their favorite film is “A Deaf Person’s Guide to the Sound Sensitive”, in which roles are reversed. And for those with a taste for poetry in motion, Deaf Jam focuses on Deaf teen Aneta Brodski’s entry into the spoken word slam scene, using ASL to express her ideas.
The 2012 Deaf Film Festival is a film festival from a Deaf perspective, but it is not just for a Deaf audience. Schertz and Lee-Samia are encouraging hearing moviegoers to attend. Almost all of the films are captioned for the ASL-impaired. Schertz and Lee-Samia hope that if hearing moviegoers take away only one thing from the festival, it will be to have their eyes opened to a different viewpoint.
The Maine Deaf Film Festival will be held April 11-14 at Talbot Auditorium on the USM campus. For more information about this year’s festival, go to: mainedeaffilmfest.com
This year’s sponsors include the USM Office of Student Organizations, The Maine Center for Deafness, Maine Relay, Sorensen VRS, and ZVRS.