Friday 16th May 2014

Another year has flown by as Deaffest returned again to hold its 9th Festival at Light House, Wolverhampton. This year Deaffest teamed up with Krazy Kat Theatre and The Arena Theatre Wolverhampton, who hosted three days of performances by Krazy Kat aimed at 4 – 11 year olds throughout the festival weekend. The 50 minute performances used music, puppets and sign language to portray Krazy Kat’s unique version of “A (midsummer night’s) dream”.

On Friday, a sunny clear blue sky greeted the arrival of Giuseppe Giuranna, the celebrated Italian born VV expert. Giuseppe ran a full day workshop for young deaf people aged 13 and over, coaching VV skills. “V V” or Visual Vernacular is an art form significant in the Deaf and signing world. It is a form of physical theatre performed by Deaf artists in an entirely visual manner, using the entire body, iconic gestures and facial expression to tell a rhythmic story. The group of students from Derby all gained a lot from the experience and Giuseppe succeeded in inspiring a new generation to express themselves in creative performance.


Fast forward to a warm Friday evening with crowds on the courtyard, and the clink of wine glasses as the official launch of Deaffest 2014 took place. A free evening open to everyone saw a mix of prominent deaf film makers, actors, media experts, film buffs and members of the community all mingling and anticipating the evening ahead. I would bet that many a future film or arts project has its origin at Deaffest where all these skilled and talented people have the chance to meet and get down to some serious networking!


Opening reception over, the crowd moved into the cinema for an evening of film screenings including a short film by Zebra Uno on the 10th anniversary of the Clin d’Oeil film festival in Reims, France and a feature film Dummy Jim about a deaf Scotsman who cycled to the Arctic Circle in 1951. Marilyn Willrich, one of the directors of Zebra Uno and Zebra Access introduced the evening’s events, which came to a finale with the screening of Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, a hilarious comedy drama following the exploits of two generations of deaf men competing with each other for superiority. This was followed by a live question and answer session on stage led by prominent deaf director / producer Louis Neethling with audience participation. The line up included members of the cast and crew: Charlie Swinbourne as script writer, and John Smith, Matthew Kirby and Sean Richards, who all acted in the film.

After an inspiring evening of deaf culture and achievement in film, the satisfied audience made its way back out onto the courtyard with plenty to talk about as the party continued into the early hours of Saturday.


Saturday 17th May 2014

An early start on Saturday morning, and the odd stifled yawn was spotted amongst staff and stall holders setting up the Deaffest fair. A multitude of stalls blossomed before our eyes as the fair got underway: tables displaying information from a wide selection of professional organizations, exhibition stands and banners by companies who had sponsored Deaffest, and goods being sold by independent deaf artists and makers including paintings, jewellery, textiles and crafts. Not forgetting of course the delicious home-made cakes and savories which are rapidly becoming one of the festival’s yearly attractions!


With the full spectrum of deaf creative ability on show, visitors were already getting stuck in, milling about clutching carrier bags containing newly bought items.

Meanwhile Giuseppe’s Saturday workshop was in full swing with a group of young adults, many of whom already had some prior experience in VV performance. These were taking the rare opportunity of learning a thing or two from “The Maestro” himself, to add to their repertoire.


In the main cinema an audience was gathering to watch short films made by deaf filmmakers from the UK and around the world. Parents were encouraged to take advantage of this year’s Mobile Crèche to steal a bit of peaceful film watching time while their children enjoyed some creative fun. The crèche with its mix of deaf and hearing staff was ideal to cater for all children who wanted to take part.

The Young Deaffest Award took place before a full audience at mid day, hosted by Zebra Uno’s Master of Ceremonies Jack Smallwood. Deaffest was thrilled to welcome special guest Rebecca-Anne Withey, a young deaf performing artist in dance, sign song and acting who gave an inspiring short interview on stage and presented the winning award.

5 shortlisted films were screened all made by young deaf people aged 21 or under, with the award going to William Horsefield for his uniquely entertaining film The Battery Battle. William modestly took the stage where he received the weighty award and made a short speech. William, 20, was also last year’s winner and as such is the first and only person to win the Young Deaffest Award two years running!

Camilla Arnold, award winning producer / director who shortlisted and judged the films said about The Battery Battle:

“Such a simple concept was turned into a great short film. The shots were beautiful, raw and edgy- perfectly in sync with the mood of the film. The editing demonstrated fantastic storytelling skills, with an inherent feel for pacing. The use of SFX was a pleasant surprise and the acting got me believing in this fantasy world. Wow! William Horsefield is one to watch- he’ll be hitting the big screens in no time!” And I have to say Deaffest agrees with this one hundred percent!

The award itself was engraved in solid slate by deaf sculptor Louis Francis and kindly donated by him.


In addition to film screenings, workshops were held throughout the day, including one for young children run by Handprint theatre. Handprint’s performers are deaf and hearing artistes using British Sign Language, physical theatre and clowning to engage the children in art and drama activities. This session proved to be extremely popular, and had children making their own super hero outfits and training up their super powers!

Other workshops and activities included Freestyle Dance sessions led by the amazing deaf dancer Chris Fonseca, face painting by qualified interpreter Vicki Frost, the children’s craft activity table hosted by Deaffest volunteers, and the astounding Mark Barber AKA “Infiniti” who was to be seen surrounded by groups of wide-eyed onlookers as he performed his magical tricks with a flourish!

An afternoon history session with the British Deaf History Society led by John Hay attracted an interested audience who learned about those in the past who instigated provision in TV and the media for deaf people. The battles for recognition and access in the past have paved the way for festivals like Deaffest to take place nowadays.


From early morning and throughout the whole day we were proud to see the wonderful Deaffest volunteers getting stuck in, helping out where needed, forming part of the media team, organising the registration desk, taking on some of the festival photography and generally making everything run smoothly like a well oiled piece of machinery. Deaffest can’t thank them enough for a great job done!


At around 4.45pm visitors were beginning to depart for their evening preparations. Tired parents were to be seen leading their yawning super heroes towards the doors, and staff began to turn their attention towards the coming evening’s events.

Two short hours later, guests were re-appearing in their smartest attire and forming a queue at the ticket desk to receive their festival arm bands. Staff had a shock when one visitor’s sleeve exploded with smoke as he had his arm band attached! But of course this turned out to be Mark Barber – that man just cannot keep his tricks to himself!


Visitors were soon taking their seats for the Ben Steiner Bursary Evening. Master of Ceremonies was well known deaf personality and project organiser Philippa Merricks. The purpose of the bi-annual Ben Steiner Bursary is to give Deaf film makers an opportunity to win the £5000 prize and use it to finance and produce a film which will then be premiered exclusively the following year at Deaffest. Zebra Uno and Zebra Access director Marilyn Willrich and Ben Steiner Bursary Coordinator Louise Buglass explained the procedure throughout the weeks running up to Deaffest. Two great films by Zebra Uno’s media team Matthew Shaw and Jack Smallwood gave the audience a deeper understanding of the whole process. This involved participants attending a course led by deaf film maker John Maidens which covered many topics including script writing, film production, budget management, scheduling, legal issues, marketing and pitching. Participants then pitched their film ideas to a panel of high profile film and media judges, with the resulting winner being announced here at the Ben Steiner Bursary evening. One of our envious hearing guests commented: “I definitely would have liked to attend that course having watched the film.


Meanwhile some stunning performances by VV expert Giuseppe Giuranna and Rebecca-Anne Withey kept the audience rooted to their seats, and the Bursary participants in a frenzy of anticipation for the final winning announcement. Finally, the winner of the Ben Steiner Bursary 2014 was revealed to be Teresa Garratty! Teresa made her way onto stage to be presented with a giant cheque for £5000. In her speech she thanked everyone involved and Zebra Access. Deaffest offers its congratulations to Teresa and we will follow the progress of her new film throughout the coming months, and look forward to its premiere screening at Deaffest 2015.


As the Ben Steiner Evening drew to a close. Everyone made their way out onto the courtyard for the next exciting event: The Late Night Deaf Party with a VV open stage and deaf DJ Paul Lynch. Giuseppe who had won the hearts of the audience with his earlier performances (our favorite of which described the life cycle of wine!) performed again on the courtyard, later encouraging some of the younger VV generation to take the stage. DJ Paul then took over with some great music, filling up the courtyard with rhythm and lights. The glass roofs must have been flashing into the night like a real light-house!


Sunday 18th May 2014

Another stunning sunny day! As is traditional the Deaffest and Media teams arrived early for a relaxed and humorous review of the weekend’s events, accompanied by the much anticipated bacon sandwiches from Lock Works Café.   The ever faithful media volunteers joined in with valuable input and observations, one being how many people had recognized the talents and potential of Young Deaffest winner William Horsefield. Another subject of discussion was how useful the new Deaffest App had been for users. Launched just before the festival weekend, the app had provided visitors with all the information they needed to get the most out of their Deaffest experience. It was decided that one of the most useful facilities on the app was the alerts. These reminded users of film screening times or event and activity start times, ensuring people were aware and didn’t miss out on anything.

Jas Kapur, Light House Projectionist and Deaffest super hero was hard at work as usual, but this didn’t stop him from joining the happy circle all discussing the weekend. Jas always, without fail gives 100% effort for Deaffest. His expertise, professionalism and experience are further enhanced by his unique personality. Nothing is too much trouble for Jas, anything is possible! Deaf staff and visitors can be sure there will be no barriers when Jas is around.

There was a holiday atmosphere as visitors who had stayed over turned up with their luggage in tow, to catch a few more films or have a farewell coffee with friends on the courtyard before departing for home.

Film screenings commenced at 10am with short films from around the world: Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany and the UK. This year there has also been an increase in films from the USA. Deaffest must be making its mark out there! The Young Deaffest films were shown in full, followed by the free subtitled screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, kindly donated by Disney.

As viewers exited the cinema at the end of the film they were glad to see the weather still warm and bright. After final farewells people were seen walking out into the sun, making their way back to their different lives either in the UK, Europe, or further afield. Deaffest is proud to be able to bring all these people together year after year.


THANK YOU to everyone who made Deaffest 2014 such a wonderful event! See you all next year for Deaffest’s 10th Anniversary…


Thursday 14 – Sunday 17 May 2015!


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