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Deaffest Success 2016!

Zebra Access

Posted 22nd May 2016.

Deaffest, the UK’s increasingly popular annual Deaf Film and Arts Festival, returned to

Wolverhampton’s Light House on the 6th – 8th May for the 11th time. Blessed with good weather

yet again, the festivities began with the annual launch event, which took place on the warm

and sunny Friday evening.

Crowds gathered in the bustling courtyard enjoying wine and refreshments, chat and

networking as a mixture of deaf filmmakers, media experts, actors, artists and members of

the community plus staff and volunteers met up once more to renew old friendships and

cement new ones.  The theme for 2016 was “A Celebration of Deaf Comedy”, with the venue

adorned in a stunning array of Deaffest 2016 banners and balloons so that everyone was in

the mood for enjoying themselves and anticipating the weekend ahead.  Local MP Rob Marris

was to be seen mingling and also spotted were a film crew taking shots as part of a special

project…

Earlier in the day – at precisely 11am to be exact – a team of film and media volunteers,

overseen by Producers Jack Smallwood and Matthew Shaw of Zebra Uno, had taken up the

“Deaffest 72 Hour Film Challenge”, asking the question “Is it possible to make a short

documentary about Deaffest 2016 in 72 hours??”  The team, called ‘Oh Sugar’ Productions

would be filming throughout the festival weekend, with the completed film to be revealed on

the Deaffest website.

As the clock neared 8pm people started making their way into the cinema for the start of the

evening’s entertainment. Events began with the first comedy performance of the weekend –

Matt Gurney – giving the audience a very blunt and funny account of an actor’s life on stage

and off.  Matt wondered why people aren’t blunt enough in everyday life, instead striving to be

too nice which he thought could end up seeming fake. His own sign name ‘blunt’ became very

popular throughout the evening! Matt enjoyed winding up the audience, informing each half to

stand up when he told them to, proceeding only to make one half stand up and down

repeatedly!

Marilyn Willrich and Nikki Stratton the co-founders of Deaffest and directors of Zebra Uno and

Zebra Access were hosts for the evening, and after welcoming the audience and introducing

the weekend’s activities, they gave a heart-warming talk about the importance of Deaf

comedy.  This was followed by a celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the BBC programme

See Hear, introduced by award winning writer and filmmaker William Mager, who has been a

Series Producer for See Hear for the last 3 years.  William talked about the history of See

Hear, explaining how challenging it is to be a Series Producer, and the pressures which the

programme sometimes comes under.  He praised his team and their diverse talents that bring

such high quality to the programme.  He also expressed disappointment for members of the

public who sometimes approached him purposefully to say that they didn’t watch See Hear-

not appreciating all the hard work that goes into this iconic deaf monthly programme.

Comedian Matt Gurney took to the stage again for his next performance – or should that be

Rinkoo Barpaga’s performance?  The two comedians fought it out on stage over who should

be on next, with Rinkoo succeeding.  He went on to share funny stories about his family,

especially his young niece who could not understand the conception of deafness and became

angry when Rinkoo did not pay attention to her when she was singing at a family get together!

Next was another celebration, this time of the British Deaf Association who celebrated their

125th Anniversary last year, 1890 – 2015.  A special documentary film made to mark the

Anniversary entitled “Power in our Hands” was screened, featuring both rare archive footage

and new interviews showing the journey of the Deaf community throughout the 20th century.

It was introduced by Alexy Dury – the BDA’s Access and Inclusion (Heritage) Officer for the

Midlands.

After an inspiring, funny and interesting evening the audience made its way back out of the

cinema with plenty to discuss as the networking party continued until 1.30am.  The magician

Mark Barber aka ‘Infiniti’, invited to Deaffest year after year because of his wonderful way of

engaging with the audience, again managed to amaze everyone with his tricks and magic out

on the courtyard!

Saturday 7th May

Bright and early on a sunny Saturday morning stallholders, staff and volunteers arrived to get

the stalls fair started and the day’s events underway.  Before long colourful stalls were

appearing all over the courtyard, displaying goods being sold by independent deaf artists and

makers including cakes, foodstuffs, arts & crafts, and information from a wide selection of

professional organizations.  Adding to the array were exhibition stands and banners erected

by companies who had sponsored Deaffest.  After a short while it was obvious to see the

stalls fair was going to be a very busy one, with crowds gathering around unusual stalls like

Infinite Wisdom Studios with their 3D Virtual Reality goggles and the NDCS’ smoothie making

exercise bikes!  With visitors joining the throng from all over the UK, Israel, Spain, Hong Kong

and even Japan, the scene was exciting and truly multi-national!

Nikki Stratton greeted the Deaffest sponsors as they arrived and presented those who were

eligible with copies of the Deaffest 10th Anniversary Album and lovely china mugs decorated

with the Deaffest Anniversary logo as part of their sponsorship package.

Over in the main gallery the Deaf Art and Photography exhibition was attracting a lot of

notice.  The artist’s work had been installed at the beginning of May to remain for the whole

month, but today some of the artists Kathryn Sawbridge, Alex Orlov, and Maciej Janowski

were giving talks about their work.  This attracted quite a large crowd of people who were

interested to learn about the inspiration and techniques behind the art.  Maciej surprised

Deaffest’s PR Liaison Officer Lou with a gift of one of his paintings – a beautiful piece of work

which he presented to Lou along with the Deaffest team as a thank you for organising the

exhibition and for the opportunity to show his work.

Meanwhile short films made by deaf filmmakers from the UK and around the world were

being screened and viewed by the audience in the main cinema.  The Young Deaffest Award

followed at 2pm with Nikki Stratton announcing the shortlisted pieces of artwork and the top

three winners in the Young Deaffest Poster Competition.  Lou Buglass PR Liaison Officer at

Deaffest, and Jackie Law, Deaffest Coordinator were two of the judges, and we were

honoured to have as the third, Marcus Dickey Horley, Curator of Public Programmes at Tate

Modern & Tate Britain.  The award for first place went to Jade who came up on stage to

receive her certificate and prize of a £50 Amazon voucher. Second place went to Daniels and

third place went to Viktoria – big congratulations to them!

To complete the Young Deaffest event there was the eagerly awaited performance by Solar

Bear Youth Theatre who came all the way from Glasgow. This was a brilliant and humorous

adaptation of the traditional Red Riding Hood story in sign language.

An hour’s break was followed by two film seminars.  The first, “How to Finance your Film” led

by Infinite Wisdom Studios Producer Michael Ford, was a seminar about pitching film and TV

ideas to potential broadcasters or studios, and raising funds for your film.  The second was

“Be Creative With Your Film”, a panel discussion exploring ways to enhance your filmmaking

through the use of special effects and animation, packed with tips from the panel with Nikki

Stratton hosting this seminar along with Animators Paul Miller, Michael Ward and Giles

Bowman, Filmmaker/Actress Fifi Garfield and Infinite Wisdom Studios Producer Michael Ford.

The University of Wolverhampton organised tours of the city campus, led by their own student

volunteers.  These were intended to give visitors a flavour of the courses and educational

opportunities open to young deaf and hearing people visiting Deaffest.  Jon Elsmore, Dean of

Students at the University was delighted with the amount of interest.

Finishing off the day’s events at Light House was a seminar by the BDA (British Deaf

Association) all about their documentary film “Power in our Hands,” which was screened on

Friday night.   Representatives from the film discussed the ground-breaking project, exploring

the making of the film and the way it has been received by Deaf and hearing audiences. They

also gave an insight into the wider archive project and the fundraising for it, highlighting the

importance of preserving sign language on film, and the ways in which filmmakers can access

archive material for use in their own work.

These seminars, workshops, panel discussions and activities were all put in place to give

deaf people the opportunity to acquire training and expertise at the festival in an easily

accessible format presented in BSL and led by deaf professionals.

Light House, buzzing with activity soon attracted the attention of the local newspaper the

Express and Star, who sent over a reporter to interview directors Nikki Stratton & Marilyn

Willrich.

Meanwhile, over at the Arena Theatre the day’s events were very busy indeed!  The Kids All

Day Workshops included (for the group 5 – 8 years) a Comedy Craft Session and BSL Story-

Time with Miss Curly (aka the wonderful Avril Langard-Tang), whose outfit was in the style of

eccentric librarian meets Nanny McPhee!  Her elongated shoes could be felt vibrating along

the floor as she walked! Also in this age group was a Magic Hands Workshop led

by CBeebies presenter Ashley Kendall and comedy mayhem with world renowned Deaf

comedian John Smith. The afternoon session, Stardazzle Parties, run by the multi-talented

Katie Mogford and her sister Hayley was a fun, interactive party based on the magic of

Disney.

The older children (aged 9-11) took part in a comedy workshop also led by John Smith, where

they tried out their skills based on John’s tips and inspiration. At the end of the morning

session the children performed their comedy to an audience, which included some of their

parents and also the younger group.  In the afternoon they participated in a Mask

Performance Workshop led by the amazing Vamos Theatre.  Rachael Savage the Artistic

Director of Vamos familiarised participants with the basic rules of the mask, ‘hot seating’ (a

way to develop on-stage character), using mask in performance, and the skills and

awareness involved in telling a story without words.

Also held at Arena were a couple of workshops for adults; one was led by the ever-popular

Italian VV (Visual Vernacular) professional Giuseppe Giuranna who gave students a unique

opportunity to learn this fascinating art from a world expert.  Giuseppe who has been a

regular contributor to Deaffest over the past few years came with a new look this year.  His

iconic ponytail was nowhere to be seen, replaced with an eye-catching shaven head!  The

other workshop for adults was led by the prolific John Smith, giving some more mature tips on

engaging an audience with comedy.

All through the action-packed day the wonderful Deaffest volunteers led by Deirdre Maguire

were seen everywhere facilitating the whole event.  Some of their roles were forming part of

the media team (including the “Oh Sugar” 72 hour film challenge), organising the registration

desk, assisting with workshops and activities, acting as communicators at stalls, bar and café,

and generally making everything run smoothly.  Deaffest cannot thank them enough for all

their outstanding work!

As the day drew to a close the stalls over on Light House courtyard packed away their wares

whilst visitors and staff departed to freshen up for the evening ahead. In what seemed like no

time at all, staff returned hastily smartened up and ready for when doors opened again at

8pm prompt.

First up on stage were Nikki Stratton & Marilyn Willrich to welcome the hosts for the evening,

presenters for the national current affairs programme BBC See Hear, Erika Jones and

Sebastian Cunliffe.

Erika and Sebastian introduced the first act of the Deaffest 2016 Celebration of Deaf Comedy

evening.  This was Caroline Parker, comedian and sign song artist of 30 years standing.

Caroline performed an hilarious sign song version of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” which

got everyone in the comedy mood! Next up was Rinkoo Barpaga.  Rinkoo has recently been

developing his stand-up comedy career in America, and he shared more of his comedic

observations on life with an appreciative audience.

Matt Gurney then gave another blunt performance, winding up one of the Deaffest

interpreters who was voicing over for him. Matt complained that Alban (the interpreter)

continued to talk even though Matt had finished signing.  Further good-humoured banter

continued between Matt and Alban, which ended up with Matt in a tantrum!

A film interlude took place next, the “Deaffest Best Comedy Clips”. To compile this, the team

at Deaffest got together and came up with their favourite comedy moments from all the past

festivals.  Quite a few members of the audience would have recognised themselves as actors

in the film clips, not to mention scriptwriters, directors, producers and many other filmmaking

roles. Some of the clips brought back fond memories of the well-loved deaf comedy actor Hal

Draper who died a couple of years ago.

The interval followed, after which Caroline Parker took to the stage once again, this time as a

stand-up comedian, sharing stories of her hearing aid when she was young. Back then deaf

people had an old fashioned hearing aid, which included a box type battery attached at the

front of the chest with a wire to an earpiece. She mimed what it was like running around with

it and trying to communicate with people. At Puberty with the enlargement of her chest, new

difficulties arose with attaching the box!  She went on to describe a different version of the

hearing aid where this time the microphone was attached to her chest. With this version she

had to go around sticking her chest out in order to hear people!  These hilarious

reminiscences could be fully appreciated by a deaf audience many of whom had memories of

similar situations. She finished by imparting the sad news that when she got her modern

hearing aids, men seemed to lose interest in her now that she no longer stuck her chest out!

John Smith and Giuseppe Giuranna next gave a rare duo performance, which the audience

found hilarious. Both had water pistol guns (John Smith’s iconic comedy implement), so you

can guess what happened next! John interviewed Giuseppe about his VV background and

after a few more funny stories John and Giuseppe shared a heart-warming hug as John

praised Giuseppe’s outstanding talent.

A large proportion of the audience had been eagerly awaiting the next act, which was a

character from a sitcom which has recently taken the Deaf world by storm.  The BSL sitcom is

Small World, and the character was Chris Baker, expertly performed by actor David Sands.

“Chris” came on stage in awe of being at Deaffest and having been introduced by Sebastian

and Erika. He talked about his hurt when in the past he had asked Giuseppe Giuranna to

watch him perform VV.  Giuseppe had taken one look and said “another time”, so now Chris

was here on stage at Deaffest, with Giuseppe captive in the audience he would take this

opportunity to finally show Giuseppe his VV skills!  These consisted of a crazy performance

which wasn’t quite VV at all and involved him rolling about on the floor shooting with an

imaginary gun!

As the audience laughed and applauded Marilyn and Nikki took to the stage once again to

thank everyone involved in Deaffest 2016 for making it such a thoroughly enjoyable event.

More thanks went to the Deaffest volunteers who had, as always, excelled themselves and

made everyone proud.

The audience then made their way out on to the courtyard for the Late Night Deaf Party.

Here the bar and cafe were busy whilst a fun portrait photoshoot took place nearby, led by

one of the talented Deaffest photographers Penny Mecklenburgh.  Lots of people took

advantage of this, ending up with keepsake shots to remember Deaffest by.

On the courtyard stage, further entertainment was taking place including Giuseppe with a

different VV show.  MC for the Late Party was comedian Matt Gurney who introduced the

stand up comedy competition.  This worked as an “open stage” where anyone could stand up

and perform their own brand of comedy.  Various people took part, and first place went to

Max Barber in character as “Roxanne”, who received a £50 cash prize.  Second place went to

Jamie Rea. Festivities and entertainment continued until the early hours with revellers finally

leaving at around 4am!

Sunday 8th May

A thunderstorm the night before left a cooler morning for early risers making their way to

Deaffest once more.  Communications Technician Matthew Shaw and Projectionist &

Technical Support Brian Short all started their day early in the Projection Room for 9.30am.

Events started with a special screening of the full length Indian film documentary “Ishaare”

(Dir. Annelies Kusters). The film documents how six Deaf signers (including one deaf-blind

man) communicate with familiar and unfamiliar hearing shopkeepers, street vendors,

customers, waiters, ticket conductors and fellow travellers in Mumbai.

An interval followed where visitors had a chance to meet up with each other again in the Lock

Works Café courtyard where animated groups of people sat at the continental style tables

and chairs set out in the sun, creating a warm and relaxing atmosphere. The “Oh Sugar” team

were still hard at work however on their film with some members filming, some editing, and

others with roles such as director, script supervisor, director of photography, production

manager and VFX artist/graphic designer.

Following the documentary was a special screening of Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book

directed by Jon Favreau, and based on Rudyard Kipling’s timeless stories. This was

extremely popular with everyone especially the children in the audience, who pranced about

on the courtyard as animals when the film was finished.

The sun was still shining on a gorgeous summer’s afternoon when viewers exited the cinema.

A few more conversations and farewells ensued before Deaffest came to a close once again

for another year.

A huge thank you from the Deaffest Team to all those who played a part this year, and thank

you to all the visitors who joined us for Deaffest 2016 A Celebration of Deaf Comedy.

Together we had a chance to forget our worries and laugh for a whole weekend!

As always – we look forward to seeing you again next year!

Press Contact

Name: Lou Buglass

Phone Number: 01902 421919

Email Address: lou@zebra-access.com