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The best sign language videos on the web

by Charlie Swinbourne

24th February 2009

For deaf people, the rise of video-sharing websites like YouTube, has spearheaded a golden age for deaf films. From shorts to documentaries, home-made clips, video blogs and signed music videos - deaf people suddenly have more sign language content at our fingertips than ever before.
The stars of Four Deaf Yorkshiremen
Films made by the sign language community have been around for years, but while in the past they had a limited audience at 'special' film festivals, deaf filmmakers can now potentially take their work online to a much bigger audience.

A year ago, I made a comedy sketch, Four Deaf Yorkshiremen which we filmed in one day with no funding at all. After a premiere at a deaf film festival, I uploaded it to YouTube and posted the link on various deaf message boards - hoping for a couple of thousand views.
A year and 90,000 hits later, I'm gratified to tell you that one of the actors was recognised while on holiday in Australia. Through the net, the film had been distributed worldwide, at no cost - something that would have been inconceivable only five years ago when video sharing sites didn't even exist.

There is so much fantastic work to see out there that I'm keen to highlight the very best of it (much of it subtitled) in one easy-to-share page. Read on, sample a brave new deaf world, and better yet, increase the popularity of the below films by sending this page to your friends.

Deaf film round-up

William Mager (Steve) & Matt Kirby (Lenny) in a scene from Text, Batteries & Earwax
Starting in the UK, Text, Batteries and Earwax' is a buddy movie which explores the difference between being hard of hearing and deaf, for comic effect. It was made by the Reid Brothers and led to a sequel called The Association - you can find the trailer below.
The Tape is a thriller by a trio of up and coming young deaf filmmakers which features a deceptive love affair, an ex-lover looking for revenge and a memorable shower scene. It’s in two parts, so be sure to click on both (below). Meanwhile Not From Where I’m Standing and the self-explanatory Never Trust an Interpreter’ explore the perennial deaf question – whose side is the interpreter on?
Skye is a beautifully made short film about a young girl who goes to a seventies fancy dress party after a bereavement. She then cheers up to the coolest sign song I’ve ever seen (starting from 7.40 mins), complete with the former Vee-TV presenter Ahmed Mudawi dancing his feet off while wearing a huge afro wig. What more could you ask for?

Meanwhile Sam Dore's well-written Tricks is more controversially about a "sex junkie who meets a call girl with a difference". Word is that there's a sequel in the offering later this year, see the trailer for Outcall below.
A scene from ‘A Deaf Person’s Guide to the Sound Sensitive’
My personal favourite of the UK batch is A Deaf Person’s Guide to the Sound Sensitive which aims to help 'deafies' identify and cope with our hearing (or should we say deaf-impaired) counterparts. It's clever and wickedly funny.
Elsewhere around the world, Tree in a Forest was an award-winner down under, and examines the thoughts of a young deaf girl very poetically.
There are a host of trailers for deaf films we can’t yet see in full on the internet, including William Mager's Stiletto, Samuel Dore's A Million Pounds Don’t Come For Free, Louis Neethling's Horatio and John Maiden's Caterpillar.

Signed songs

There are some fantastic signed songs bringing music to life visually, the best coming from America’s Deaf Performing Artists Network, or D-PAN, as they’re better known. Their videos are in American Sign Language (ASL) and even incorporate some animation. Click below for their version of Christina Aguilera's 'Beautiful' and John Mayer's 'Waiting for the World to Change'.
Other sign song artists making a splash around the world include Finland’s Signmark, and Swedish sign-singer Matilda Bergman’s interpretation of Mariah Carey’s 'Hero'.
Back in England, Fletch@ - Walsall’s finest - brings Will Young’s 'Evergreen' (see the video below) and Pink’s 'Dear Mr President' to life in sign with added emotional intensity.

And lets not forget the great ASL spoof of the iPod Shuffle advert featuring signing silhouettes ...

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Comedy clips

In comedy, America again leads the way with the Pepsi Superbowl adverts, showing us how to work out which house a deaf family live in, and also showing two friends 'talking smack to each other' - which thankfully isn't a reference to heroin, but an American term for arguing the toss over which team will win the Superbowl.
I don’t understand ASL, but my favourite signed YouTube clip of all time is The Fastest Hands in the West, which features deaf cowboys shooting at each other while on horseback. It’s more dramatic than any western I’ve ever seen, even though it has no special effects, and the visuals are all in the hands. In my view: Jerome Cain, Collin Hillenbrand, Michael Holman, Jason Maloney and Darrell Roby, deserve a Deaf Oscar for hand-stuntmanship. They’re the coolest cowboys on the web. Check it out below.

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In individual storytelling, the popular Deaf Ninja (630,000 views!) is almost zen-like in it's precision, an intense experience. Idiot Boy and a Motorbike is a good laugh, though Mountain Dew Man is a little too intense for me. Then there’s a great advert for an American telephone interpreting service, "Even your kids can use it!".
Back in the UK, Brown Solid Productions created what they claim is 'the world's first deaf sketch comedy' The World Today. It features an intense tarot card reading, a late-night bible basher and an FBI agent who is very precise about taking a break.
Sometimes the funniest clips are the shortest and simplest ones, such as this clip on SignTube of a deaf man sucking in his belly on a beach as an attractive lady walks by, and this explanation of why deaf BSL users don’t tend to feature on Top Gear…

Performing Arts

Deaf theatre companies and artists are becoming increasingly more web savvy, often including sneak previews of upcoming work online.

You can see sample scenes from Deafinitely Theatre's upcoming production Double Sentence here, then soak up the atmosphere of Birmingham's integrated youth theatre company Words Signs and Vibes, before returning to serenity by sampling Sign Dance Collective's But Beautiful.

The Deaf performance artist Aaron Williamson has a channel page full of his work - my favourite is when he becomes 'Barrierman', erecting "barriers that everyone can share" on the streets of Liverpool.

There's also a clip of deaf dancers from the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe who have performed all over the world. You'll almost believe a woman has a thousand hands when you click below...

Where to find more!

If that's not enough for you - you can hunt down more clips for yourself, using sites aimed at the deaf community, such as Deaf Joke and Deaf Video. Then there's the aptly titled sign version of YouTube - Sign Tube, which hopes to bring sign language clips together in one place – "to share the news, information, events and even fun" with deaf people across the world. The site features everything you could expect to see on YouTube, with sign language a constant. It also has regular clips from deaf organizations and clubs, giving it a community feel. There's also the brand new site My Deaf Life, which produces it's own new content (but also requires a subscription to see all of it).
As if all that (and BBC2's See Hear) isn’t enough, Deaf TV viewers can now look forward to seeing brand new deaf programming on the Community Channel three times a week.

The British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT) launched in January, and you can see their first show Wicked online here. The new eight part series of Wicked starts on April 1st (not an April fools joke, honest!) and will feature the crew travelling up and down the country in an orange campervan which doubles as their studio.

As well as being online, you can see the show on digital platforms such as Freeview, Sky or Virgin. see the schedule.
After watching all those clips, I'm off to grab some much needed fresh air. Happy viewing!
• You can see all of Charlie's films, at his YouTube Channel
Do you know any signed video gems, missing from Charlie's rundown? Share them in the comments below.


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