Thursday, December 24, 2009

Film in sign language, "Universal Signs," makes a Best Films of 2009 list

From Jeff Berg in the Las Cruces Bulletin in New Mexico:

Best films of 2009

So, what do I feel were the best films this year? Well, in no particular order: “Up in the Air,” a new comedydrama- romance with George Clooney; “The Hurt Locker,” another in an ever-growing list of excellent films about the combat operations in Iraq that are being ignored; “Medicine for Melancholy,” a very understated picture about a young African American couple who try to understand a variety of cultural issues after waking up from a one-night stand; “Sita Sings the Blues,” a dynamic animated piece that entwines two tales of love and break up; “Flame and Citron,” a based-on-fact tale of two Danish resistance fighters during World War II; two Iraq war films – the outstanding “The Messenger” and the made-for-cable piece “Taking Chance;” and the most moving and emotional movie I’ve seen in years, the very cool documentary, “Art and Copy.”

Also making the best list were, “Ponyo” – another animated flick; “The Road,” based on the Cormac McCarthy book, which unbelievably never came to Las Cruces; “Universal Signs,” the first film ever made for a deaf audience (but had subtitles for the hearing), and the ultra super-duper funny “Whatever Works” from Woody Allen.

Here's the description of Universal Signs from its Web site:

Universal Signs has the unique distinction of being the first major motion picture that embraces sign language in the storytelling of a film, rendering it a foreign language film for the hearing audience. The film is framed for maximum visualization of the sign language, allowing Deaf people to enjoy a film in their native language. The film is captioned in English throughout for both hearing and Deaf audiences.

Authentic Sign Language
The signing in the film is authentic and will be appreciated by Deaf audiences worldwide. Robert DeMayo, a Deaf actor, teacher and the film’s ASL consultant, transliterated the script from written English into ASL taking into account the variations in signing related to socioeconomic status, cultural upbringing and local colloquialisms. On-set ASL coaching was provided to the actors to ensure the signing was accurate. Sabrina Lloyd studied sign language intensely for three months to prepare for her role as Mary Callahan taking both private and group classes as she did not know any sign language before this production. Margot Kidder, Robert Hogan, and Ashlyn Sanchez also learned ASL for their roles.

All Deaf Characters Played by Deaf Actors
Unlike other motion pictures that have used hearing actors to play deaf characters, Universal Signs advocates and promotes Deaf culture and Deaf performing artists as all Deaf characters are played by Deaf actors.

Modern-Day Silent Film
Universal Signs is a theatrical experience. Hearing audiences are completely absorbed because their senses are altered by the lack of spoken dialogue. They are more focused on the visual beauty and feel they “can’t look away” or they will miss something. In this way, the audience travels on a first-person journey through the Deaf world, truly stepping into the shoes of a Deaf person for 100 minutes. Rather than treating deafness as a physiological condition, hearing audiences are exposed to Deaf culture bringing about greater awareness of an under-represented American subculture.

Bridging Cultures
Universal Signs is a new experience for both hearing and Deaf audiences. Hearing audiences step into the Deaf world viewing a silent movie in a foreign language, and Deaf audiences can view a movie in their native language for the first time. Because of the perfect timing of the captions, the audiences laugh at the same time, cry at the same time, side by side. When watching other films with captions, the Deaf audience is often at a disadvantage and delayed, not able to catch jokes at the same time as their hearing counterparts. Universal Signs is neither strictly for the hearing audience nor for the Deaf audience — it bridges two worlds and cultures.

All-Original Score by an Academy Award®-Winning Composer
Academy Award® winner Joseph Renzetti painstakingly composed the entire film with an original score. The music sets the mood for each scene – haunting, yearning, flirty, even comedic at times. It is a prominent voice in the film because it does not compete with ambient noises or dialogue. The score is its own character in the film, relating more to the mood of the characters than the scene’s action. For hearing audiences, watching Universal Signs is similar to watching a ballet or old-fashioned silent movie. As in a silent film, the characters have their own theme music; Andrew’s theme is haunted, whereas Mary’s is light and uplifting.

Universal Themes
Although Universal Signs is told in an unusual way, it has a message that is understood across all cultural barriers. It is a universal story about connection, redemption, and love. It is an exploration of depression and overcoming personal obstacles, something that every human experiences. It shows that Deaf or hearing, we are all the same and experience the same emotions of joy and loss.