Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views • Issue no. 9 July-August 2001


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The Second Annual Festival of Cinema for the Deaf
February 27th - March 3rd, 2003
Presented by The Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI)


In the winter of 2002, the Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI) held its first annual Festival of Cinema for the Deaf. After receiving over 80 films from a dozen countries, CIMI screened the best 30 films. People flew in from England, Scotland, Israel, Amsterdam, and all over America to Chicago for four days of films, food and friends.

The Festival of Cinema for the Deaf featured many firsts:
  • The first film festival of this size and scope for the deaf anywhere in the world.
  • The first animation workshop where deaf high school students from all over America worked with a Hollywood director to animate a film to a piece of music, and project it at the festival the next day.
  • The first Think Tank on Cinema for the Deaf, meeting a second time, with deaf and hearing specialists from all over the world presenting about cinema and technology.
  • The first "Ted" Tannebaum Award for Lifetime Achievement given to world renowned actor, director, and author Bernard Bragg.
  • The first time many deaf children had seen a feature film captioned in a theater.
CIMI worked for sixteen months planning, raising money and support, and finding deaf filmmakers for this one-of-a-kind film festival. They held a fundraiser at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago and unveiled the festival poster which was designed by a 19 year-old deaf art student, the winner of a poster contest. Before the festival, CIMI screened movies to audiences in Chicago and Los Angeles. During the festival over 2,500 people contributed to four sold-out theaters and four catered receptions.

Opening night at the Claridge Hotel, Loews Cineplex Piper's Alley, and Dinotto Ristorante was sponsored by Target Corporation, Illinois Arts Council, Northern Trust, and the Israeli Consulate. Other sponsors include Showtime Networks, Digital Theater Systems (DTS) and Abt Electronics. Opening night began with a reception, hosted by the Claridge Hotel. CIMI provided 45 volunteers fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) so everyone could communicate clearly. All films over the weekend were captioned for both deaf and hearing audiences, with many forms of subtitling and new technology introduced. The opening night film program featured four exceptional short films, two by deaf directors, and all featuring deaf actors and themes. Hundreds of people attended from all over the world. Dinotto Ristorante sponsored a reception for over 250 people following the movies.

On the second day of the festival, Friday, March 1, 2002, deaf and hearing students met for five hours with Hollywood animator Gary Schwartz to create a music video. Using their own bodies, and with the help of deaf filmmakers from around the globe, they animated their own trailer that introduced each film for the remainder of the festival. Friday evening CIMI presented four sold-out shows of 20 short films at Facets Multimedia in Chicago, followed by a sponsored reception at O'Brien's around the corner.

Saturday afternoon a Think Tank on Cinema for the Deaf met to introduce their work. Specialists in technology, filmmaking, and captioning presented their recipe for success. Sponsored by Showtime, DTS, and Personal Captioning Systems, this was the second time CIMI hosted a meeting of this type. Following the Think Tank luncheon sponsored by Cafˇ Bolero, films continued at City North 14, including captioned versions of "A Beautiful Mind" and "Monsters, Inc." sponsored by DTS. Saturday featured "It's a Family Affair," a collection of films for, by, and about children.

On Sunday, CIMI held an awards ceremony at the Green Dolphin. The ballroom was set up with a Mexican breakfast buffet and filled with people excited to see the latest work by actor and author Bernard Bragg. "BB" as he is affectionately known, also received a "Ted" Tannebaum lifetime achievement award for his commitment to deaf culture, theater, film and entertainment. In addition, he will be writing the introduction to the upcoming book Cinema and the Deaf, a collection of essays, edited by Joshua Flanders, Executive Director of CIMI.

On Monday, dozens of deaf children from all over the Chicago area came to a free showing of "Monsters, Inc." captioned and sponsored by DTS. This was the first time that many of these children were able to see a movie captioned in English and understand every part, like everyone else. For many, it was their first time ever in a movie theater! This festival opened the doors to the 27 million deaf and hard-of-hearing in America who cannot understand and appreciate movies. With issues of accessibility gaining public concern, and in accordance with the ADA (American's with Disabilities Act), this festival is not only important and necessary, but also timely.

With the success of the 2002 festival, the 2003 Festival of Cinema for the Deaf, February 27th - March 3rd, 2003, promises to exceed last year's numbers. CIMI has plans to expose these deaf films to larger audiences worldwide by taking our festival to major cities and partnering with other festivals. Since the 2002 festival, Chicago has become the center for deaf filmmaking. CIMI regularly offers captioned films for deaf audiences. Ultimately, we hope to make Chicago the center for all "outsider" cinema; films made by people excluded, for whatever reason, from the mainstream.

For more information please visit www.cinemaforthedeaf.org

Liz Tannebaum, Festival Director, is an Emmy award-winning actress whose work in the Chicago deaf community is unparalleled. Liz has taught deaf acting technique in Milan and continues to speak at schools around America, encouraging children to consider careers in film and stage. Liz has starred in plays all over the country, directed children's theater, and worked in films, including "What Women Want" with Mel Gibson. Currently, she is studying stand-up comedy with director Stephen Rosenfield at the American Comedy Institute in New York City and recently debuted at Caroline's on Broadway.

Jesse Rodriguez, Program Director, is founder and CEO of JR International Media. Former Operations Manager for The Chicago International Film Festival for three years as well as former Program Director for The Chicago Latino Film Festival for two seasons, Jesse now consults for Film Festivals in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, and Florida. His original approach to improving minority visibility through the media has earned him enormous acclaim in the United States, South America, Mexico, Canada and Cuba.

Joshua Flanders, Executive Director, CIMI, received his B.A. in English in 1993 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has done graduate work in literature and film at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. In 2000, Joshua founded the Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI) and organized their first conference featuring Second City founder Paul Sills at the Chicago Historical Society. He is currently editing Cinema and the Deaf, with essays discussing the history and the future of deaf cinema, and The Spherical Journal, a collection of essays which explore common ideas that span many disciplines.

Dr. Jon Ferguson, Technology Director, is the president of the Featherstone Clinic in Rockford, Illinois. Dr. Ferguson has studied and taught at several institutions, including the Mayo clinic in Minnesota and the University of Illinois College of Medicine. He and his clinic were awarded Best Doctors in American-Midwest Region every year since 1996. Dr. Ferguson brings his expertise of the human body and state-of-the-art technology to CIMI.

Marlee Matlin, Honorary Board, gained worldwide acclaim for her Academy Award winning motion picture debut in Children of a Lesser God. Marlee has appeared in a dozen more films, as well as starring and guest starring in a number of television shows, including Spin City, ER, The West Wing, Seinfeld, Picket Fences, and The Practice. She serves on the boards of a number of charitable organizations, including CIMI's Honorary Board. In addition, she has just completed a children's novel, Caution: Deaf Child Crossing.

CIMI: Placing the Spectator Before the Film
Statement of Purpose

The Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI) is a not-for-profit organization that encourages filmmakers to take responsibility for the way their films affect their audiences. As a research organization, CIMI studies the effects of moving images on specific groups and individuals. At the same time, CIMI works with socially conscious filmmakers to engage marginalized spectators. CIMI's long-term goals include the development of cinema as a therapeutic tool. CIMI projects include:
  • Film Festivals
  • Academic Conferences and Think Tanks
  • Television and Film Production
  • Educational Workshops
  • Research and Publication
  • Development of New Technologies
CIMI's faculty, board of directors and sponsors are unified by their commitment to the future of cinema. Thanks to their teamwork, CIMI is able to bring its ideas from the drawing board to the movie theater.

Deaf Children Animate Music Video
On Saturday, March 2nd, 2002, Los Angeles animator Gary Schwartz came to the Festival of Cinema for the Deaf in Chicago to animate a film unlike any he had done before. Gary had worked to make movies with children all over America, but now he faced a new challenge; animating a festival trailer with deaf student filmmakers to a piece of music.

Joined by renowned deaf actor and director Bernard Bragg, London's Ramon Woolfe of Remark!, filmmaker David H. Pierce of Davideo Productions, and several interpreters, Gary used state-of-the-art technology to bring the students' bodies to life, vibrating and spinning with language. "I had seen Gary work with this "lunchbox" device to animate films before," said Joshua Flanders, Executive Director of CIMI, who produced the festival, "and I told him, 'you have to join our festival' and from there we agreed we had to make a music video with deaf children."

Almost 20 students from Texas School for the Deaf (TSD), John Hersey High (Illinois), and Evanston High School (Illinois), worked for about 4 hours to put together a 30-second trailer that played the very next day at the festival. The students were amazed to witness their work projected on the big screen the very next day. "It was a dream come true," said Liz Tannebaum, Festival Director, "everyone had a look of joy all weekend and kept thanking me, saying 'finally!'" Excited 8th grader and actor Jonathan Davis of TSD said, "I already came up with new ideas and I want to make more films." Surely in years to come, these students will have more incentive to follow their dreams of being filmmakers. And with the growing ease and affordability of filmmaking, those deprived the chance of making films, due to lack of budget or education, can do it with ease. "Only by creating a venue" Flanders adds, "and at the same time encouraging and educating our future filmmakers, can we hope to build a home for deaf cinema in Chicago." Through their support of new technology, CIMI hopes to fulfill their mission of bringing all those deprived of films the chance to enjoy as well as create movies.

Facets Opens Doors to Festival of Cinema for the Deaf
When the marquee at Facets Multimedia in Chicago read "Festival of Cinema for the Deaf," many people had to take a second look. But the four sold-out performances at this theater, renowned for hosting Chicago film festivals, prove that deaf cinema is here to stay.

Founded by the Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI), this annual festival has already gained international attention in less than two years. "CIMI has been responsible for helping deaf festivals get off the ground in Scotland, England, and elsewhere in Europe, as well as bringing festival films to cities around the U.S.," said Joshua Flanders, Executive Director of CIMI. "The Festival of Cinema for the Deaf is serving a need that has gone ignored for decades too long."

Since sound was added to films in the 1930's, most movies were not made accessible to deaf adults and children, even after the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect in 1990. Even adding simple captioning was costly and difficult. But the Festival of Cinema for the Deaf premiered new captioning technology that will make theaters more accessible for the 27 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans. Developed by Digital Theater Systems (DTS), this captioning system uses a laser projector to place subtitles or captions right on the screen. CIMI also works to provide captioning for first-run Hollywood films, for films at Chicago film festivals, and at special events throughout the year.

CIMI faculty regularly speaks at schools in the Chicago area and around the country. Seeing successful deaf adults working in film and theater, as well as being involved in the festival workshop, have inspired many children to pursue careers in art and technology. "It really gives you a sense of the success you can have," said Zach, age 16, after a CIMI workshop Holland Elementary in Springfield, MO. In addition, the Festival of Cinema for the Deaf featured films created by deaf children, as well as offering free screenings of such fun films as "Monsters, Inc." fully captioned. For many children, it was their first time ever coming to a movie theater!

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