Maine Deaf Film Festival expands to 4 days in Portland

from The Forecaster:
Maine Deaf Film Festival expands to 4 days in Portland

Apr 03, 2012 9:50 am

10th annual Maine Deaf Film Festival

PORTLAND — The 10th annual Maine Deaf Film Festival seeks to educate audience members about what it is like to be deaf.

The annual student-run festival, April 11-14 at the University of Southern Maine, showcases homegrown and international films created, produced and performed by members of the deaf community. With the festival, the American Sign Language Club at USM hopes to educate people about deaf culture, issues and art.

“We offer a full roster of films and the movies that we tend to screen are authentic from a deaf perspective, not just a Hollywood film portraying an outsider or poor, deaf people,” said Esther Lee-Samia, an administrative assistant in the university’s Linguistics Department. “The films are produced, executed and performed by deaf people, and present issues from their perspective.”

This year is the first time that the event will stretch over four days. On Wednesday, selected local and international films will be screened in Payson Smith Hall, Room 303, from 7-9:30 p.m. Thursday’s showings will take attendees back in time with a retrospective of films from past years. The retrospective program costs $5 for the general public. All events are free to USM students with their ID cards.

Friday night’s screening presents “The Hammer,” a coming-of-age drama about Matt Hamill, a UFC fighter, who became the first deaf wrestler to win a national collegiate championship. The film will be shown from at 7:30 p.m. in Talbot Auditorium in Luther Bonney Hall. Admission is $10.

Saturday is packed with family-friendly selections covering topics ranging from navigating the health-care world to deaf teen Aneta Brodski’s journey into the spoken-word slam scene. General admission for Saturday showings is $8 for a half day or $14 for the full day. In addition to the film screenings, guest speakers including some of the films directors and talent, will address attendees.

According to Lee-Samia, in the past around 200 people have taken in the films. But with the festival expanding to four days this year, she hopes that attendance will jump to between 400 and 500.

“We have a very loyal following,” she said. “And we just keep growing.”
Amber Cronin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or Follow Amber on Twitter: @croninamber.

Mary and Max

Mary and Max

Mary, who experiences alienation in every aspect of her life, starts out with parents who are poor, weird, and unsympathetic (her father is into taxidermy, her mother is an alcoholic who seems to do nothing but yell at her) and eventually end up dead. The visible evidence that she is neglected at home makes her a pariah at school in spite of the fact that it is the other children who are overtly engaging in bad behavior (at one point, she comes to school with a coat fastened with clothespins because her pet chicken pecked off the buttons and nobody sewed them back on, and other children harrass her in the schoolyard, with one boy going so far as to pee on her sandwich in plain sight). In an attempt to remedy her loneliness, she picks Max’s name at random out of a phone book, and is lucky enough to get a reply back from someone who is obviously sympathetic and intelligent.  Max’s letters ring true to Asperger’s style: full of plain speaking, factual details, and jumping from one topic to another, but in the eyes of society and her mother, potentially dangerous and unsuitable for children. Maybe it was Max’s mention of having been a mental patient, or the frank but inappropriate discussion of his sex life (or rather, the lack thereof) that sets the mother off when she finds the first letter and throws it away, believing she is protecting her child. In spite of how this looks to her mother (and most average people), correspondence with someone who has been in her shoes as a social outcast is exactly what Mary needs. Contrary to a lot of recent portrayals, it is possible for people with Asperger’s to have friends, but in view of the fact that some of the things they do and say go against society’s notion of what is considered appropriate, this perhaps can lead to a bonding with people on the margins of society.

(Speaking of inappropriate things and portrayals of sexuality, Australia’s movie and video industry must have somewhat different standards of what is considered appropriate to show in a picture purportedly for children than prevail in the USA. Let’s just say this was the first time I’ve seen claymation genitals.)

Luckily for Mary’s emotional equilibrium, she is in a position to send another letter in which she describes the situation to Max, and comes up with a solution: he will henceforth send his letters to the address of an elderly neighbor whom she helps out.

The premise of the possibility of pen pals who can have a years-long and very intense relationship without engaging in physical contact of any sort is a theme of this and a handful of other films such as My Japanese Wife (perhaps it is increasing in popularity as global communications of every sort are becoming more widespread?)

Admittedly, some of the reactions they have to one another’s letters seem exaggerated for effect, such as the fact that Max’s objection to being used as a case study for the sake of her career in psychology sends her into a spiral of suicidality and some of Mary’s letters sent Max into “meltdown” mode and in one case, effected his return to the mental health system (where he would be told he had Asperger’s Syndrome, in spite of the fact that it was way too early in the timeline for such a thing to be possible in real life, as Asperger’s was only recognized by the American Psychological Association in 1994. And yes, someone who really does have Asperger’s really would have a problem with a purportedly serious and sensitive movie set in a specific temporal period getting a widely-known piece of factual information so glaringly wrong!)

In spite of the claymation medium, which is usually reserved for less-than-serious examples of the cinematic oeuvre, I found myself liking the overall gestalt of this picture in spite of having some problems with particular parts of it.

Movie Review by Laura Brose