Thursday, March 17, 2011

SXSW: Visual storyteller wants to bridge gap between deaf, hearing audiences

From PBS:

Hundreds of filmmakers came to Austin, Texas, to attend the SXSW Film Festival this past weekend. Their films ranged from narrative features to short documentaries to music videos. Almost all of them had at least one thing in common: a soundtrack. But the work of deaf filmmaker, designer and animator Robyn Girard stood out from the rest of the pack.

Girard, a visual storyteller who works to bridge the gap between deaf and hearing audiences through film and animation, spoke at the SXSW Film Conference and Festival about the portrayal of deaf people in film, how popular films often perpetuate stereotypes and how the deaf community can counteract those perceptions.

"It's our job," says Girard, "to prove that deaf people are not silent." In other words, not being able to hear doesn't mean they can't make some noise in the culture.

Instead, she says, deaf people often err on the side of overcompensation, wanting to emphasize that they "are masters of communication."

Girard's most recent project, 101 Things That Unite and Divide, is based on the idea that visual storytelling is an essential part of deaf culture and seeks to explain deaf culture to the hearing community using design, animation and film.

In a series of short stories -- told in American Sign Language (ASL) and written English by deaf people -- Girard tries to highlight experiences that she feels are missing from the public understanding of deaf culture.

"My challenge as a designer is how to design for two completely different audiences and have them understand at the same time," explains Girard. "Not only two different audiences, but two different languages."

One man describes being able to conduct a discussion about fish while he's underwater, scuba diving with his brother. A woman recounts the first time she understood what's known as the "moth effect," when deaf people gather toward the light source in a dark room. Girard boasts her ability to talk (using ASL) with her mouth full.

Ultimately, Girard hopes that 101 Things That Unite and Divide will have a ripple effect, bringing positive stories of what it's like to be deaf to popular culture.