Day 3 Evening 1

Left to right: Marilyn Willrich, Zheng Xiaosan and Nikki Stratton. Photo taken by SHIDFF’s photography team.

Both Marilyn and I were delighted to return to Shanghai after our previous visit in Autumn 2017. Last year, we consulted with the SHIDFF team which includes the Founder & Director Sam (Zheng Xiaosan) who is Deaf. He had a vision for Shanghai’s Deaf film and arts industry and was planning the first ever Shanghai Deaf International Film and Arts Festival. Upon our recent return to Shanghai, we witnessed the realisation of his vision and we were amazed, overjoyed and proud to see so many Chinese deaf artists come together to celebrate and showcase their amazing work.

Day One

Shanghai’s first ever Deaf-led International Film and Arts Festival took place over three days and we were privileged to witness the success of the event and to support what has to be one of the most triumphant festivals to date.

At German Consulate 9

Photo taken by Deaffest.


At German Consulate 4

Alice Hu. Photo taken by Deaffest.

On the first day of the festival, we were all invited to the German Consulate at the Goethe Open Space to meet and greet China’s Deaf community, along with SHIDFF volunteers. This was hosted by Shanghai’s own talented Deaf Artist Alice Hu, who introduced the world’s well-known VV Artist Giuseppe Giuranna. He delivered an inspirational workshop focusing on how to create a VV (Visual Vernacular) performance; this covered the importance of having a great imagination, unique skills and confidence. It could be said that VV is the way that deaf people experience music through a visual medium. To this day, I’m still in awe of Giuseppe, who flew to Shanghai from Germany. His charismatic performance and ability to build rapport with people is such a joy to watch!


At German Consulate 11

Giuseppe Giuranna. Photo taken by Deaffest.


We were then invited to join the German Consulate’s consultant Dr. Oliver Hartman for a Chinese lunch. Through our sign language interpreter, we were able to converse freely whilst asking him about his work in the Department of Culture and Education at the German Consulate, along with his thoughts of Deaf Arts around the world. He too was in awe of Giuseppe and this was just the start of the Festival! In the evening we joined several deaf people at a social gathering near The Bund and exchanged cultural experiences.

Day Two

This was a full-on day where our support was required in different ways. I engaged with the talented deaf artists and filmmakers of Shanghai. The festival was held over two locations; one was The Pearl Theatre where films were screened and the other was at a Film Park where workshops were being delivered. Fortunately, a very kind volunteer escorted me via taxi to the second venue, as they were not within walking distance of each other.

The experience was incredible! The workshops held at the Film Park in Shanghai were intriguing and I had the pleasure of seeing many works of art produced by talented Deaf Chinese Artists. Two of these works were created by husband and wife duo, He Lifeng and Gao er Qun. He Lifeng is also a great photographer (a very modest one indeed!) One thing I noticed about the Chinese Deaf community was their passion and dedication in aspiring to produce great pictures with the right background/lighting. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering China is renowned for its great advances in digital imaging, which are often circulated through WeChat, and other social media platforms created and used in China. These social media platforms should be sufficient for the deaf community to share the great art they produce with the 1.4 billion people that live in China!!!!

Day 2 Film Centre 1

Nikki Stratton. Photo taken by SHIDFF’s photography team.

At the Film Park, I watched Anthony Cheung (a young deaf Filmmaker from Hong Kong) give an inspiring presentation about his films and the obstacles he has faced, yet has managed to overcome. Anthony visited Deaffest in 2010 with his team to learn about the festival and we provided insight and support, including the provision of subsequent filmmaking training in Hong Kong. This led to the success of the first ever Hong Kong Deaf Film Festival in September 2010. Although my Chinese Sign Language is not quite up to scratch, I was fortunate enough to be able to access the presentation through an international sign interpreter (more of a mixture of ASL with some great visual representations). It was fantastic to see Anthony again. I also saw a deaf Chinese Artist demonstrating VV, I was amazed and felt fortunate to have been able to see so many wonderful international VV artists all in one weekend!


Judge panel. Photo by Deaffest.

Meanwhile, Marilyn was busy at the Charms Hotel, Shanghai, viewing several films as one of the six strong judging panel which also included Documentary Film Director Su Qing, Poet and Film Director Qing Xiaoyu, Film Director and Artistic Director Chen Ya Nan, Founder of Clin d’Oeil Festival David de Keyzer and Sign Language Translation Researcher and Sign Language Interpreter Sun Qian.

Here is Marilyn’s account of her experience:

I was one of the six judges for SHIDDF. From China there were two hearing judges Su and Qing and two Deaf judges Chen and Sun, another Deaf judge from France David and of course myself as one Deaf British Judge – my international sign skills were put to good use during the session! The 12th category was the ‘Audience Choice’ award and amazingly two British films; The Silent Child and Signs of an Affair were tied in first place! Considering we were from different parts of the world, we were all on the same wavelength and there were no disagreements! I enjoyed the experience and a big well done to the SHIDFF team for making it happen!” 


Day Three

 On the third and final day of the festival, we attended The Pearl Theatre which is a traditional Art Deco cinema, with some great characteristic features including upstairs balconies which were filled throughout the day and night. We both delivered a presentation about Deaffest and our collaboration with SHIDFF. We also showcased our previous promo, produced by our deaf media team, which features the famous John Smith, Chris Fonseca, Adam Bassett and Deaf filmmakers from the UK. This screening gave us goosebumps and filled us with pride and we told the audience that China could easily do their own promo, using their filmmaking talents. The second screening was of the award winning “I Believe” sung by Yolanda Adams and conveyed into sign language featuring well known Deaf Performing Artist from America – Rosa Lee Timm and the UK’s Deaf Dancer, Chris Fonseca and deaf children from the UK. Again, this was wholly produced by a Deaf team in the UK, collaborating with America’s well-known music video producer and original Founder of Deaf Film Camp in America – Stacey Lawrence. We were met with several questions from the audience and hope that this has motivated them to go on to produce their own films.

The rest of the day was filled with entertainment, including a film screening produced by Joel Barish, Founder of DeafNation, USA, a documentary where he gained an insight into Tibet’s Deaf community by interviewing deaf workers.

Day 3 Evening 10

Photo taken by SHIDFF’s photography team.

In the early evening we returned to The Pearl Theatre for the SHIDFF 2018 Silent Magnolia Awards Show and their slogan was “Using the power of film & arts for greater social inclusion”. This was a fun-packed evening featuring performances such as, dance, sign song, V-V, sign language poetry and the presentation of the film awards by special guests. We are planning to welcome a number of these artists to Deaffest 2019. Their performances were professional, of a high quality and very entertaining.



The closing ceremony went seamlessly and was an unforgettable experience. We certainly felt at home when both of the UK’s well-known films, Oscar winning Silent Child and Signs of an Affair won the Audience Choice Award. Both Marilyn and I gave a speech on their behalf and collected the awards. We were also honored to be presented a small gift, a stone that had both the SHIDFF and Deaffest logos painted on them by deaf children. This is something we shall treasure for years to come.


All in all, it was a truly successful event, and we were proud to be part of this important milestone for Shanghai’s FIRST ever International Deaf Film and Arts Festival. The festival was well attended by hundreds of Chinese deaf people along with International deaf visual artists/performing artists/filmmakers from the UK, USA, Russia, France, Germany and Austria. We want to congratulate SHIDFF for their contribution and hard work to make this, not only an event that will never be forgotten, but also for turning a dream into a reality… SHIDFF rocks!

Day 3 Evening 5

Left to right: Nikki Stratton, David de Keyzer, Dr. David James, Tracey Arrowsmith, Zheng Xiaosan and Marilyn Willrich. Photo taken by Deaffest.

Day 3 Evening 11

Left to right: Alice Hu, Marilyn Willrich, Nikki Stratton and Giuseppe Giuranna. Photo taken by Deaffest.

Here’s a lovely comment from Sam:

The initial connections made possible through culture grant support planted the seeds for the tremendous success that has been achieved so far in the planning of China’s first International Deaf-led Film and Arts Festival. The Deaffest Co-founders Nikki Stratton and Marilyn Willrich were so well-received by the deaf and deaf-ally community here in Shanghai, that their physical presence really energised our volunteers and core team. It also helped us to forge connections with deaf schools and gain a foothold in the media through the Media Social inclusion seminar and exposure to the international community through the British Council and CBBC information event. When you last visited, the deaf community were so very open and receptive to Nikki and Marilyn’s consultation and involvement, as it represented hope, empowerment and social inclusion in very real and tangible ways and China’s Deaf Dreamers are so hungry for such affirmation.” Zheng Xiaosan (Sam) Founder and Team leader of Shanghai International Deaf film and Arts Festival 2018.

All the best with future developments for this amazing festival and we look forward to showcasing some of China’s greatest Deaf Artists at our next Deaffest 2019 Festival….so watch this space!

The news is going crazy in China at the moment, as more than 20 media platforms have shared the success stories of this event, including Shanghai’s Education TV station!

Click here to view the list of awards and winners.

Click here to view video about how SHIDFF was founded, produced by Joel Barish, Founder of DeafNation.


About Deaffest

UK's Leading Deaf-Led Film and Arts Festival

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