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Film explores experiences of Deaf community

Published: 16 August 2018

Brandy Watene-Paul in a still from The Village by Little Feat Films.

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Film explores experiences of Deaf community.

Members of the Auckland Deaf community have collaborated with local filmmakers to tell a story about Deaf culture in the Whau.

A story of language alienation and friendship, The Village, follows Brandy, a young woman arriving at a Deaf school and experiencing the culture shock of full immersion into a sign language environment.

The film is a fictionalised account based on the experiences of the many hearing impaired youth who grow up in verbal environments, who only later discover sign language.

It reflects the challenges and daily experiences of being Deaf and speaks to the participants’ desire that more people become fluent in New Zealand Sign Language.

Brandy Watene-Paul, who plays the lead character of the same name, says she felt nervous at the start of filming and was worried about a breakdown in communication. But over time she felt herself become more confident.

“I feel good about it and proud to share it, to show that we are equal and not separated from the world," she says.

The film was created in collaboration with residents and staff of the Kelston Deaf Education Centre (KDEC), members of the Auckland Deaf community, film maker Hank Snell, writer James Littlewood, and local artist Amy Blinkhorne.

It was funded by the Whau Local Board through their Community Arts Broker.

Whau Local Board Chair Tracy Mulholland says she hopes the film will help give people a greater understanding of the challenges the Deaf community faces.

“The film aimed to enable creative learning for the young people who participated as well as communicate and promote Deaf culture. It’s a great film – I encourage you to watch it. ”

The Whau has long been home to the North Island residential school for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

It was filmed on location at Totara Village, part of the KDEC complex. Totara Village provides a safe, nurturing environment for up to 23 Deaf and Hard of Hearing residents who attend the centre.

Film writer James Littlewood says it was a blast working with the people at KDEC.

"It was also a huge responsibility. One thing we were sure of going in: this was going to be their story, not ours."

"I wrote things down, and shaped them a bit, but this story came from the people you see on screen,” says James.

Director Hank Snell says he was impressed with the level of commitment from the participants.

“Everyone bought into the idea of the film, and then gave everything they had during the production. It challenged their comfort level, but they rose to the challenge," says Hank.

Find out more about Kelston Deaf Education Centre at kdec.school.nz.