Monday, November 24, 2008

Deaf film director finding success in UK

From The Times in South Africa:

Louis Neethling never takes advice, well-meaning or not.

When a teacher told him he wouldn’t be able to work in television got a job as a runner at the SABC. And when film crews he worked with laughed when he told them he wanted to produce and direct, Neethling did not pay them any mind either.

For Neethling, 37, (pictured) who was born deaf, is determined to prove his disability is no handicap. The son of deaf parents and born and bred in Springs, Neethling is now an award-winning film-maker with a company, Mutt & Jeff Pictures, in London.

Recently he finished a short drama for The National Deaf Service in the UK to be launched next month.

Neethling’s career in film started when he got a job as a runner at the SABC, even though his teacher warned him a job in television was out of his reach.

He then became a researcher before he, together with scriptwriter and producer Louise van Niekerk, started Dtv and created a magazine programme on SABC for deaf people. His directoral debut was on a deaf soap called Young and Speechless.

He won a Rotary Scholarship to study at the National Film and Television School in the UK and returned to South Africa to work in film. Then the BBC’s See Hear approached him to direct a new deaf drama called Switch. He moved to the UK in 2001.

Now living with his wife and two children in Hillingdon, just outside London, Neethling — who does not only make films for deaf people — has truly proved that although it isn’t easy, deaf people can work in mainstream film and TV.

He is driven by big dreams. The biggest one is to see one of his films on general release in mainstream cinemas.

“People are still uncomfortable with the idea of a deaf director,” he says. “They can be frightened of us and start thinking of what we can’t do. There’s the stigma and they don’t want to take the risk. Obviously I have a sound person on set and when it comes to editing I wear my hearing aid and use my interpreter for some cues.

“When I work with a hearing cast and crew I tell them to just think of me as a normal director who happens to use an interpreter.”

“I want to prove to people that I, and other deaf film-makers, can succeed,” he adds. “I won’t give up even though it is difficult to transcend being labelled. Making films, documentaries and TV films, about deafness and mental health issues aren’t very glamorous and therefore a very small budget is given when you work in these fields. So you learn to get the most out of very little.”

He acknowledges that he has to work two or three times harder than hearing people.

The industry, like most, is mainly controlled and produced by hearing people, and is one of the most difficult areas for deaf people to get work at a level suited to their skills and experience. He said another of his dreams is also to return to work in his homeland.

“I would love to go back to South Africa to do some work in documentaries on deaf people and also shoot a drama there again. Plus I want to give some workshops to pass on knowledge to other film makers there, inspire them. I’ve been blessed and so many amazing people in South Africa have helped me that I want others to have that opportunity too.”