Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival lets the deaf be heard

Filmmakers give the deaf a voice

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 6:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 6:08am

Terry Tsoi Kei-kwai may have lost most of his hearing after coming down with a fever at the age of three, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a filmmaker whose latest project, Dream of the Deaf, explores the many daily challenges the hearing-impaired face.

Co-directed by Paul Lam Sai-shun, the film is about two brothers, one of whom cannot hear, and examines how deaf people are often misunderstood. It is among the 34 films being screened at the upcoming Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival.

"In one scene, one of the brothers' loud opening and closing of doors wakes his dad. The audience might think he's being rowdy, but that's because he can't hear," says Tsoi. "That's a part of being deaf I want the audience to know more about."

The 26-year-old hopes to make a feature film in the future, but admits to experiencing difficulties while working on Dream of the Deaf, which is under 11 minutes long.

"The crew communicated with each other using sign language on and off set. But for some tasks, like sound mixing and composing film scores, we needed outside help," Tsoi says.

Through a sign language interpreter, fellow director Anthony Cheung Chuek-ho says getting a film made by the deaf is an achievement in itself, especially in Hong Kong, where there is scant support for moviemaking by this group.

"Apart from Theatre of the Silence [a theatre troupe], there are no professional deaf performers in Hong Kong. It's very difficult to find deaf actors," says the 30-year-old director of Dictation, which screened at the third Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival in 2013. "For my film, I needed to spend a lot of time looking for able-bodied actors from families with deaf members, as they know sign language and could communicate with me."

Tsoi, who is an events organiser with the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf, was introduced to filmmaking two years ago at a workshop as part of the deaf film festival.

"I learned about scriptwriting, lighting, casting and other video-making techniques," he says.

This year's festival also includes the inaugural Hong Kong International Conference on Deaf Cinema, for which Tsoi is a scheduled speaker, along with counterparts from Japan and Singapore, and local group News of Deaf's director, Mary Ng Sui-ping.

"Most people know hardly anything about how the deaf live," says Ng. "We hope that the film festival helps them understand their culture and way of life. We want to show the general public the silent world and boost exchanges between the deaf and hearing people."

Most people know hardly anything about how the deaf live. We hope that the film festival helps them understand their culture and way of life
Mary Ng, director, News of Deaf

Hong Kong Association of the Deaf president Amy Lau Lai-fong says the aim of the film festival is to enhance exchanges among deaf communities around the world, and to also reach out to others.

"It's the first time for the festival to feature international conferences on filmmaking by the deaf. But our target audience is not just the deaf," she says.

The screening programme comprises films that are diverse in many ways, including in the variety of territory-specific sign languages used. Mimi Ng Yit-ming's DeafWork, a documentary about four people with hearing impairments who overcome difficulties to become successful entrepreneurs, makes use of Singaporean Sign Language.

While Louis Neethling's Tree Fairy, a magical-realist tale about a nine-year-old deaf girl meeting a fairy, contains British Sign Language as well as English dialogue.

Except for the four festival selections without any dialogue - including Haruna Morohoshi and Ryosuke Hirakimoto's Mononoke, a Japanese anime about a possessed little boy and his elder brother who takes him to be cured by a shaman - all the films will be shown with Chinese and English subtitles.

Cheung, who is also taking part in the conference, explored in his film Dictation, the difficulties faced by deaf students who have been put into mainstream schools following the government's implementation of the integrated education policy.

"A deaf girl needs to resort to cheating as she can't hear the teacher during dictation. But everybody, including her mother, assumes she can hear just like ordinary people once equipped with a hearing aid. That's hardly the case for the deaf," he says of his socially relevant piece.

The videographer says he is working on a script for a feature film. "Many deaf students are suffering now in mainstream schools," Cheung says. "I want to make more movies to shed light on the problems plaguing the deaf community."

Hong Kong International Deaf Film Festival, Feb 27-Mar 1, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Wan Chai. For more details, go to hkidff.com