Thursday, April 28, 2011

Deafness in Film: An Interview with Alyssa Dole

By James Latham

Getting any film made is usually a miracle, especially for filmmakers who face extra challenges, such as being very young or having physical disabilities. Alyssa Dole not only overcame both of those challenges, but made them into advantages, when she directed, wrote, and starred in Deaf Perception, a short film that we screened in 2010. Alyssa’s twin sister, Ashley, also wrote and starred in this story of two deaf teenage sisters sitting in a coffee shop and subjected to the reactions of the people around them. The film is a brief but impressive look at the challenges of being deaf today.

James Latham: What was your experience in film before making Deaf Perception?

Alyssa Dole: Ashley and I were extras in our father, Marc Dole’s, short films Tweet, The Bureau, and Mito-Kids. Deaf Perception is the first short film I ever wrote / directed. A lot of what I know about filmmaking is from the guidance of my co-director, Chase Bailey, and my father, who seems to always have a video camera in his hands.

JL: Can you tell us a little about Mito-Kids? What it’s about and how it might be interesting for people not directly affected by deafness?

AD: Mito-Kids is about me and my three sisters. How our different diseases are actually connected through mitochondrial cells. It also shows how even though we have health conditions we still live rather normal lives.

JL: How was Deaf Perception conceived? How does it draw from your personal experiences, and what are some things you want people to take away from it?

AD: One day my dad was teaching my cousin and me how to make a script. It didn’t take long for me to come up with the idea of twin sisters who are deaf and hard of hearing and face a lot of obstacles. I think it was about a week later when I got home from school that Dad told me that he handed my script over to his friend who, after reading it, said, “I want to direct this.”

The part where the cashier is being rude has actually happened to my sister and me a lot. It’s happened at restaurants, stores, airports, offices, etc. Another thing is people stare a lot. We don’t mind if someone is interested in sign language and wants to learn. We just don’t like it when people ogle us.

I want people to notice how, when we signed and / or verbally spoke, there were still captions for everyone to understand. That’s what every movie with deaf characters should be like.

JL: What challenges and rewards have you encountered so far as a young deaf filmmaker? How did the collaborative nature of filmmaking help or hinder your work on Deaf Perception?

AD: My mind is more open to artistic abilities. Because of this, I now take film as an elective at school. I love it.

I’m really proud to be a member of the Deaf Women in Film organization. I’ve never done anything like this before, and to have an organization like that for all deaf women is inspiring.

It was great working with my collaborators. One challenge was that it was exhausting to be a hearing impaired teen surrounded by regular hearing people for even just a few hours. There were interpreters, but they were more for Ashley, who is sign language dependent. Next time I’ll make sure to work more with interpreters.

JL: This might seem a little esoteric, but what thoughts do you have about film and sign language as forms of visual communication?

AD: To me, sign language is a beautiful way to speak. It’s so wondrous that you can see someone’s voice. It is complicated to put on film though. You can do very few close ups and wide shots. You also have to make sure that the scripted words can match the signs; and be aware of other things, like how your wardrobe will affect seeing the butterfly-like movement of hands.

: Where else have you screened Deaf Perception? How has the reception been?

AD: It’s been on the New Hampshire Chronicles that airs right after the local news. I remember a lot of people recognizing me at the mall because of that. We screened at the VFF and the New Hampshire Film Festival.

JL: What are your plans for the future?

AD: I’m currently working on making a sequel to Deaf Perception. I hope to continue making films in other areas as well as deafness.

JL: And go to film school?

AD: I might take a few classes here and there but film school, no. It’s actually much more fun to learn as you go.

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