Thursday 16th May 2019

andrey thurs.jpgA large turn-out of deaf students aged 11 – 17, from three midlands schools arrived at Light House for the full-day activities at Deaffest. Jointly leading the workshops was a brand-new collaborative duo – much loved Deaf British comedian and actor John Smith, and young dance and finger-dance expert Andrey Dragunov, who came all the way from Russia. John tours his hugely successful comedy shows throughout the UK, Europe and internationally and Andrey has performed at Hip Hop International’s 2016 World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas, the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Phoenix, Arizona in 2017 and has been on the ‘Tahub!’ Russian dance show on TV.

The students learned performance skills from the experts and built up their confidence trying out their new abilities. There was lots of laughter, and the kids were inquisitive and willing to have a go!

Students also had the opportunity to meet and greet Deaffest’s Guest of Honour – WFD (World Federation of the Deaf) President Colin Allen AM, all the way from Australia. He delivered a short welcome presentation and praised the Artists for their amazing performances and work.  Photos were taken of the WFD president, Deaffest’s Co-founders – Nikki Stratton and Marilyn Willrich, and the children that attended the workshop.

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At lunch time there was the option to visit the Deaf Art & Photography exhibition in the main gallery at Light House. This was on view throughout the whole of May.

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Friday 17th May 2019

Deaf artists from across the globe had been arriving at Deaffest over the previous 2 days – from Denmark, Australia, Singapore, USA, Shanghai, Russia, and Germany, as well as Scotland and other parts of the UK, ready for the Launch of Deaffest 2019.


Throughout the day, Light House and Zebra Uno staff worked together effectively to coordinate rehearsals for artists, resolving any issues well in advance of the later live stage performances.

Deaffest, the UK’s longest running, Deaf-led, Deaf Film and Arts Festival had returned once again to Wolverhampton’s Light House Media Centre for the 13th time! Wine and refreshments were served in the covered courtyard, and when the time came guests assembled in the main cinema in anticipation of an eventful evening ahead.

The 2019 Launch kicked off in truly international style, with the Hip Hop dance crew from Singapore, Redeafination. Then, Co-Founders Nikki Stratton and Marilyn Willrich gave a special introduction and welcome to Deaffest’s International and UK artists on stage – and what a line-up that was!


The theme for Deaffest 2019 was Share Your Story, and that is what these global Deaf artists would be doing throughout the festival weekend, via performances, workshops and activities. They would be connecting across cultures, breaking down barriers and sharing their own unique stories with the Deaffest audience and each other.


Continuing as hosts for the evening, Marilyn and Nikki went on to introduce the first ever collaborative performance between Deaf UK favourite John Smith, and 15-year-old Deaf comedian and actor Danny Murphy. Danny is well-known for starring in his own whacky comedy sketches online, which have gained him over 40,000 fans. He has even recently co-starred in mainstream USA film The Parts you Lose, alongside famous American actor Aaron Paul. The collaboration was something completely new and challenging, but both artists really hit it off as a duo and gave the audience much amusement!


The screening of the Deaffest 2019 Trailer came next, giving a flavour of what would be on offer throughout the festival weekend. The trailer was produced by Zebra Uno’s Media Officer Jack Smallwood. Watching it, the audience had a chance to get excited about all the entertainment and opportunities ahead throughout the weekend.



Next up was the charismatic Wawa, who rocked the audience with his show Wawa’s World and his unique style of “Dip Hop” – Deaf Hip Hop. Wawa (AKA Warren Snipe), is an acclaimed Deaf rapper and recording artist from the USA. He performed his original songs which aim to challenge and educate people about Deaf musicians in a hearing world, and to put Deaf recording artists on the map. We couldn’t agree more!



Russian Deaf performer Andrey Dragunov was next on stage, astounding the audience with his incredible finger dance skills. Building up anticipation, he hid at first, then after a pause, reappeared wearing his magic gloves (complete with flashing LED lights). The audience were in awe and amused by his clever tricks. Andrey’s talent for engaging with his audience earned him a massive appreciative response.


Then to round off this part of the evening came the much anticipated Redeafination, the 5 strong Hip Hop dance crew from Singapore. Since its formation, Redeafination has performed at events not only in the East, but across Europe too. The energy and precision of their moves had a big impact on the audience!

Networking in the Courtyard followed, where new friends and old had a chance to catch up with each other and meet Deaffest’s international performers.

Saturday 18th May 2019

Saturday morning got off to an early start as the Deaffest volunteer team geared into action, setting up the Stalls Fair with speed and precision. Stalls blossomed into colour as organisations’ banners went up and tables were filled with wares. The first visitors of the day began browsing the aisles, chatting and enjoying what the stalls had to offer: arts and crafts, food, activities, and useful information from Deaf-related businesses. Meanwhile, film screenings commenced in the main cinema, and workshops began, both at Light House and Deaffest’s other venue The Gateway, kindly provided by University of Wolverhampton.

The main gallery attracted visitors interested in viewing the 2019 Deaf Art & Photography Exhibition (on show throughout the whole of May). Information on the techniques and inspiration behind the artworks could be gained from the artists themselves, who gave public talks and answered audience questions.


The Deaffest stall was the go-to place for enquires, assistance, and to pick up or buy tickets. From this vantage point could be seen the amazing array of visitors from many different countries and cultures – some stunning in traditional dress and giving such an exciting international vibe amongst the crowds.


Workshops throughout the day quickly became fully booked (if they weren’t already) by enthusiastic participants enquiring at the Deaffest stall.

The workshops and presentations included:

Hip Hop dance skills taught by the multi-talented Russian born entertainer Andrey Dragunov.

A scriptwriting workshop focusing on different methods of producing a script – the written word and sign language, led by two well-known Deaf scriptwriters / filmmakers Charlie Swinbourne and Brian Duffy. Charlie, who is also a journalist, won an RTS award for writing the sketch show Deaf Funny, which he also directed, and has written a range of Deaf comedies and dramas. Brian wrote and acted in his own comedy sitcom Small World which was aired on TV via BSL Zone. He uniquely produced his script for Small World using sign language which contributed to the success of the series. Brian also originated and developed his career in his earlier years at Young Deaffest, through MediaBox in 2007! This was led and delivered By Deaffest’s Co-founders Nikki and Marilyn with Gordon Hay as the main Tutor.

A presentation by Wawa, who brought his informative talk on Deaf Musicians: Rise and Struggles to Deaffest, where the audience could learn about the challenges of Deaf musicians in a hearing world.

IMG_0474_1.jpgA hands-on workshop called How to be an Amazing TV Presenter. Two Deaf professional presenters, Clive Mason and Rosie Benn gave top tips and advice to participants in this exciting workshop. Clive, an influential figure in sign language and the media, is well known as the long-standing Presenter and Reporter on BBC’s See Hear programme. Rosie is a young, ambitious filmmaker and presenter, known for her role as one of the presenters on BSL Zone’s Up For It? She rose to prominence on BBC’s See Hear programme and has had her own series See Hear: On Tour where she travelled and presented abroad.



The Big Painting Challenge workshop and competition was led by Deaf artist Ruaridh Lever-Hogg (who was a contestant on the TV show). Participants created their drawings of live model, Deaf actor Adam Basset, whilst gaining tips and encouragement along the way from the judges: visual artist Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq and animator Paul Miller. Judges announced the winner as Thomas McWhinney, who received a £30 voucher.



Deaf Arts and Film in China Presentation led by the Founding Director of the Shanghai International Deaf Film Festival (SHIDFF) Sam Zheng. Sam, a Deaf filmmaker and animator based in Shanghai and an international award-winning director, talked about the progress of Deaf Arts and Film in China, and its contribution to creativity through the power of media. The presentation was supported by Deaf Artist/Interpreter from Shanghai, Alice Hu.

A Presentation explaining the work of two inspiring organisations: The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), a global organisation working to ensure equal rights for 70 million people around the globe, and the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS). Jointly led by the presidents of both organisations, Colin Allen AM, and Mark Berry.



Meanwhile Children’s workshops were taking place both at Light House and Deaffest’s other venue partner, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, overseen and supported by Mobile Creche. For 4 – 7 year-olds, Handprint Theatre led a theatre and storytelling workshop based on the popular children’s book Moonbird by Joyce Dunbar and Jane Ray. Added to this was a storytelling session in BSL – Dachy’s Deaf – led by well-known CBeebies presenter of “Magic Hands”, Donna Mullings.



8 – 12 year-olds took part in Vamos Theatre’s Mask Performance Workshop where they learned mask performance skills and developed their own stage characters. The afternoon session was a fun-filled workshop led by newly commissioned double act John Smith and Andrey Dragunov, bringing kids and hilarious mixture of Comedy, Dance and Finger Dance skills.


On the main stage the Young Deaffest event was hosted by Deaf teen Danny Murphy, who told the story of his own rise to fame. He inspired the young audience by talking about his videos and mainstream film acting. The event included award presentations for the Young Deaffest Film Award and the Create a Character Art Competition, with the Young Deaffest Film Trophy being presented by WFDYS president Mark Berry for the film Bad Girl, directed by Tamara and made by young Deaf people age 14 – 17 from Czech Republic. A £50 voucher for 1st place in the Poster Competition was presented to Enkhjin, with certificates for Patrick and Natasha in second and third places. To top all of this, there was a lively and funny performance by Solar Bear Deaf Youth Theatre, with 7 young Deaf actors taking part, aged between 13 – 17 years old.


Also taking place on the main stage between film screenings was the Creative Careers Panel Discussion. Chaired by Deaffest’s Co-founder and Project Leader Nikki Stratton, the panel looked at opportunities for Deaf people in the media industry. Under discussion was how the media industry works, and some interesting advice and tips were given to those wishing to get involved and pursue a career in media. Panellists included filmmaker Louis Neethling, BSLBT’s Kerena Marchant, Noel Dunne from Creative Alliance and Justin Edgar from 104 Films.

Customers in the Lockworks Café had a surprise visit from the amazing Andrey Dragunov. Andrey popped up to astound them with his Finger Dance skills, and hopefully he warned them to put their hot drinks down before trying out any of the moves themselves!

By 4 o’clock, the Stalls Fair started to pack up after an extremely busy day on the Courtyard. The amazing team of volunteers had done a wonderful job of assisting with the multitude of diverse tasks allotted to them throughout the weekend so far.

Deaffest 2019 Film and TV Awards Gala

Screenshot 2019-06-05 at 10.27.16.pngAfter a brief recess following the day’s activities, the festival continued back in the Main Cinema at Light House, with the 7th Film and TV Awards Gala.

Being now a biennial festival, the main event of the weekend was even more eagerly anticipated than ever. Visitors took their seats in the packed cinema, looking forward to finding out the winners of the 10 film awards, as well as seeing an array of international performers and entertainers.


The evening got off to a bang with the high-energy dance crew from Singapore, Redeafination. Their performance summed up the diversity and expert skills of Deaf Arts showcased throughout the Deaffest 2019 weekend.

Co-founders Nikki and Marilyn took the stage next, to introduce to the Gala audience Deaffest’s Master of Ceremonies and Guest of Honour Colin Allen AM, President of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD).

Colin took the reins and with expert ease and charisma, guided the audience through the ensuing line-up of Deaf entertainers and award trophy presentations.


Andrey Dragunov took the stage next – the immensely popular Russian Hip Hop dance and Finger Dance performer, followed by the first two Film Award presentations for Best Actor and Best Actress, given by comedian John Smith and The Right Worshipful, The Mayor of Wolverhampton, Councillor Claire Darke.

A performance by Richard Carter followed. Richard, one of the UK’s foremost Deaf BSL poets, inspired the audience with his confidence and style.

Three awards followed: Best Screenwriter, presented by Louise Rhodes, who was representing our sponsor, the University of Wolverhampton, Best UK Short Film, presented by BSLBT’s Head of Content and sponsor, Kerena Marchant, and Best Director, presented by Deaffest’s own Nikki Stratton and Marilyn Willrich.

Italian-born VV Maestro Giuseppe Giuranna gave a heartfelt tribute to three well known Deaf Artists who had an incredible influence and impact on the beauty of Sign Language, and who sadly passed away this year: Chinese VV performing artist Zhang Peng, (which clips of some of his performances), UK Storyteller Jerry Hanifin, and Bernard Bragg from USA, who was an actor, producer, director, playwright, artist, and author.

Following the interval, the Film Awards got underway again with trophies for Best International Short Film, presented by the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS) President Mark Berry, and Best Documentary, presented by Joel Kellofer, the founder of SignLive, one of Deaffest’s sponsors. 

A performance commissioned by Deaffest and created by theatre maker and a performance artist, Jamie Rea, supported by Solar Bear, came next. Verge is Burning told Jamie’s own personal story in a unique and refreshing way.

Another two awards followed this; Best Artistic Short Film was presented by Founding Director of Shanghai International Deaf Film Festival (SHIDFF), Sam Zheng, and Best Television Programme by media icon and long-standing presenter of See Hear, Clive Mason.

This was followed by a joint performance by VV expert Giuseppe Giuranna and his talented son Calvin-Janos Giuranna.

The much-anticipated award for Best Film came next, presented by Deaffest’s Guest of Honour and Gala MC Colin Allen AM.

Redeafination took to the stage for the grand finale, ramping up the party mood for the next part of the evening, the Late Party out on the courtyard.


The winners of the Deaffest 2019 Film and TV Awards were:

Best Actor – Joël Chalude | Faking a Living

Best Actress – Jemma Joyce | To Know Him

Best Screenwriter – John Maidens | Dot

Best UK Short Film – Ava | William Grint

Best Director – Ted Evans | To Know Him

Best International Short Film – This is Ed! | Dir. Bob Hiltermann

Best Documentary – Deaf Child | Dir. Alex de Ronde

Best Artistic Short Film – The Gingerbread Witch | Dir. Paul Miller

Best Television Programme – Deaf Funny 3 | Dir. Charlie Swinbourne

Best Film – To Know Him | Dir. Ted Evans

A judge panel of film and media experts decided the winners in each of the 10 categories. The judges were: Adrean Mangiardi, Camilla Arnold, Myroslav Slaboshpyskiy, and Zoë Romer.


In the courtyard and Lock Works Bar, crowds gathered around the Courtyard Stage ready for the Late-Night Party entertainment. DJ Nico DiMarco provided the music, while VV performer and MC Ishtiaq Hussain led the night’s events, which included a Talent Competition hosted by deaf presenter Rosie Benn. Acts on stage also included fantastic performances by Redeafination, Wawa’s World with DJ Nicar, Andrey Dragunov, Richard Carter, Giuseppe and Calvin-Janos Guranna.

Fun photos were being taken by photographer Penny Mecklenburgh, so that revellers could remember what they got up to the next day! The celebrations and partying continued until closing time at 4am.

Sunday 19th May

The last day of Deaffest 2019 saw visitors arriving on the courtyard and relaxing with a cuppa in Lock Works Cafe.

Film screenings in the main cinema included films from the Non-competition category and a special subtitled screening of Disney Studio’s latest Marvel Studio film Avengers: Endgame!

As final farewells took place, the last remaining international artists began their journeys back to countries across the globe, taking with them unforgettable memories and creative inspiration from their time spent united in one home at Deaffest.

Deaffest would like to thank everyone who took part this year in various roles such as volunteers, artists, performers, workshop leaders, participants, audience members, interpreters, stallholders, judges, or award presenters. You all make Deaffest what it is, and together we can be proud.