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A Film Unlike Any Other About a University Unlike Any Other

June 15, 2010
Arrow Buff

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Washington, DC — An eight-minute film, simply called “Gallaudet,” debuted on the Internet, garnering a frenzy of attention on Facebook and Twitter, on June 1. Recently produced by Gallaudet University, the result is a sophisticated artistic journey into the deaf way of being that has resonated viscerally with the hearts and minds of the viewers. The response has been immense and viewers of the film have responded with comments, blogs, and vlogs—video blogs—calling it “inspirational” and “phenomenal.” The film logged more than 20,000 views in the first 48 hours alone. At the end of the first week on the Internet [June 1-8], it was viewed almost 35,000 times in over 40 countries. To see for yourself, go to: movie.gallaudet.edu.

The film begins with a black and white drawing on a sketchpad. The illustration pulls closer and closer until the viewer tumbles inside, like Alice discovering a remarkable new world after falling into a rabbit hole. Therein lies an American Sign Language depiction of the biological architecture of a tree, as well as an artistic account of a “DeafSpace” presentation, flashes of Gallaudet history, a re-imagining of the Sixth Street market outside the Gallaudet walls, and glimpses of a vibrant classroom discussion and bustling student life.  The visual effect of a single, continuous shot, overlayed with animation make for a stunning portrayal of life at Gallaudet.

The film that involved over 200 Gallaudet students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the community, was the brainchild of Dr. Dirksen Bauman, a professor of deaf studies and the film’s producer. The film demonstrates the considerable talent to emerge from Gallaudet University. Director Ryan Commerson received a bachelor’s degree in television and photography and an M.A. in deaf studies at Gallaudet. Wayne Betts, Jr., an acclaimed filmmaker who served as the director of photography and editor, also attended the University. Along with Commerson and Betts, the assistant director, Julia Dameron studied with the late Gallaudet film professor, Facundo Montenegro.  Current professor of Theater Arts, Ethan Sinnott served as the film’s set designer and choreographer.  This powerful team worked alongside hundreds of other alumni and current students to capture sentiments often articulated by graduates: The sense that Gallaudet is a lifelong home, and students become part of something bigger than themselves.

That larger movement, said Bauman, is about broadening and questioning our knowledge. “Gallaudet University is perhaps the one and only small liberal arts university in the world that is at the epicenter of a large-scale paradigm shift,” he said. “Gallaudet began the revolution in the understanding of human language. Today, understanding the nature of language is more accurate, thanks to Gallaudet.”  

“Seeing Gallaudet is not like peering into a window, but rather looking through a kaleidoscope,” said President T. Alan Hurwitz. “This film shows the many-hued beauty of this University, and does it masterfully through the powerful tool of video. “

At a time when “niche” institutions of higher education, such as historically black colleges and universities and all-women’s colleges, are questioning their relevance, many are consolidating their efforts into what they do best. The filmmakers show that Gallaudet has been doing the same, engaging questions of language, identity, all the while showcasing the ways that Gallaudet expands the boundaries of visual media production.

15 June 2010

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