Volume 28, Number 3, Fall 2006

Through Deaf Eyes

by: Karen Kenton, WETA TV, Arlington, Virginia

Through Deaf Eyes is a two-hour, high-definition television documentary for PBS exploring the past two humdred years of deaf life in America. A national PBS broadcast is planned in spring 2007.

Inspired by the Gallaudet University exhibition “History Through Deaf Eyes,” the PBS film relates remarkable and compelling human stories. There are first-person accounts by people whose families tried to "cure" them of their deafness. Marlee Matlin describes her role in the film production of Children of a Lesser God and her subsequent Oscar win. Poet and performer Bernard Bragg is also included. The film explores education, the formation of a community, cultural identity and revolution, including a segment on the historic 1988 Deaf President Now protest. Filmmaker Larry Hott has filmed in schools and homes across the country, accessed the vast amount of archival footage and stills available to the project, and even filmed a concert with a deaf rock and roll band!

The film is experiential. The project has commissioned six works by deaf filmmakers that will be woven throughout the historical documentary. These short films underscore the themes explored in the film and bring a unique and personal perspective to the film. The film also includes a tour of a deaf home. These and other elements help the viewer better understand deaf life in America, from a deaf perspective.

The broadcast film is accompanied by a comprehensive educational outreach campaign, an interactive DVD and a companion book. An educator’s guide and a viewer’s guide are being developed to engage community-based organizations and schools in discussion and study. Led by the National Association of the Deaf and the National Council for the Social Studies, a network of over fifty national organizations and their local affiliates and members, as well as local public television stations, will disseminate information and encourage participation in the outreach campaign. The project’s core outreach partners include the National Association of the Deaf, Gallaudet University, and California State University - Northridge.

A comprehensive, interactive Web site will present perspectives on deaf lives; visual and performing arts of the deaf community; and will allow for further exploration of the history presented in the film. Curriculum, educator guides, and viewer guides will be available for download from the site. Additionally, the deaf filmmakers’ work, along with interviews with the filmmakers, will be included on the site and on the interactive DVD. Gallaudet University’s Web site, which will be linked to the Through Deaf Eyes site, will encourage site visitors to submit their own personal deaf history; these stories will be collected as part of an on-going deaf history archive. Planning is now underway for screening and discussion events that will take place in a variety of locations across the country. Organizations interested in hosting an event should contact WETA.

Working closely with the Friends of Libraries for Deaf Action (FOLDA) network, the project will participate in the Deaf History Month Toolkit that is made available by the American Library Association. The Web site and DVD will include a variety of access features, including talking menus, Braille transcripts, and ASL and English translations.

Through Deaf Eyes is a production of WETA in Washington, DC and Florentine Films/Hott Productions, in association with Gallaudet University. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, the Annenberg Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Outreach is funded, in part, by Sign Language Associates.

For more information, contact executive producer Karen Kenton at WETA TV, (703) 998-2433.