On Tour: Bethlehem, PA

25 Apr

April 19, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Bethlehem, PA

Zoellner Arts Center was the last stop on the tour and I decided to take my 11-year-old son along on the trip. Planes, trains, subways, and buses – all modes of public transportation were my means of travel for the tour and it gave me a chance to immerse myself in the landscape of the sites visited and meet other travelers. The bus ride to Bethlehem was an adventure beginning with a mix- up in hotels! We arrived at our destination and phoned the Holiday Inn Express for a shuttle ride from the bus station. It was a quick 5-minute ride but when we arrived at the Hotel, I found that we needed to go to the other Holiday Inn Express across town. Cyndy Brinker, my contact at Zoellner, had arranged for a pick up from the Hotel to the Theater but I wasn’t sure which Holiday Inn Express the ride would be arriving at. It was a very funny predicament that worked out fine in the end but in the midst felt like a comedy of errors.


Zoellner Arts Center is a state of the art theater complex. The screening had an intimate gathering of members and students. The post screening discussion allowed for a personal dialogue with all the members of the audience.

One person asked if I had considered submitting the film to the U.N. or other organizations dealing with diplomatic relations. While the film has participated in the American Embassy program, it has not participated in a U.N. program yet. It was an intriguing idea to pursue and one that had not occurred to me.

After the screening, Deborah Sacarakis, brought my son and I to an amazing Greek restaurant where we indulged in a delicious meal and delightful conversation with the restaurant owner – a relaxing closure to an inspired tour.

A round of applause is due to the amazing efforts of the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation staff and host sites. I am humbly grateful to have had the opportunity to bring Deaf Jam to Carnegie Hall, BlackRock Center, Light Up the Queen, Christopher Newport University, Monmouth University, the Tilles Center, and the Zoellner Arts Center.  I hope the film was an inspiration to all that saw it. It certainly was an inspiration sharing it with all the diverse communities I met and had the pleasure of speaking with.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Brookville, NY

25 Apr

April 13, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Brookville, NY


Sharon Maier-Kennelly, General Manager and Director of Programming Initiatives, led me on a tour of LIU – Brookville – formerly known as C.W. Post.  The campus was the former home of C.W. Post’s daughter Meriwether, and is reminiscent of a tranquil English Country Estate. Inside the Admissions building we were invited to climb into a tower off limits to most visitors. The top of the tower holds an octagonal room surrounded by windows looking onto a garden area – not quite big enough for Rapunzel but magical.


The Tilles Center holds a beautiful theater with a terrific sound system.

Clara Zahler, Campus Arts Liaison, and Sharon were fantastic hosts who reached out to the surrounding schools for the Deaf as well as the campus community. We had one of the largest attended audiences of the tour with over 60 people.

The post screening discussion-included questions about the characters, inspiration for the film, future plans, and a potential poetry slam between the schools for the Deaf next year!

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Long Branch, NJ

25 Apr

April 11, 2016 | Deaf Jam |Long Branch, NJ


Interior Pollack

The projection and sound at the Pollak Theatre was superlative!

For the Q+A, I was very fortunate to be joined by Liz Wolter, the driving force from Lexington School featured in the film.  Liz is also the author of the companion guide for the Deaf Jam educational DVD. She is the kind of teacher that every parent hopes his or her child is fortunate enough to work with.

We fielded questions concerning the current climate of deaf education. The most recent out cry had just occurred a few days prior to the screening when the A.G. Bell Association released a statement negating the importance of sign language acquisition for Deaf and hard-of-hearing children. 

In a recent Washington Post column, (Polus, March 28, 2016), Nyle DiMarco, the popular star of “America’s Next Top Model” and now, a favorite contestant on “Dancing with the Stars”, shared his views that there are many deaf children who are being deprived of their own language, American Sign Language. He also shared that he recently established a foundation, the main goal of which is to improve deaf infants’ access to ASL. A firestorm was ignited when the Alexander Graham Bell (AGB) Association characterized the comments of Mr. DiMarco, who is profoundly deaf himself, as spreading myths about the benefits of American Sign Language and in so doing they alleged that the need for American Sign Language had diminished for children who are deaf. Additionally they alleged that the use of ASL is declining dramatically and that “the window for a deaf child to acquire listening and spoken language is much shorter than the window in which ASL can be acquired.” Ironically, no actual research was cited.

A detailed editorial favoring bilingual education and siting factual evidence contrary to the AG Bell association’s statement was published by a reporter for the Gallaudet Publication – The Buff and Blue.

While Deaf Jam is not a political film, it does showcase the profound attributes of ASL practice. Of note, was that the audience at Monmouth was entirely hearing and the discussion regarding the on-going controversy over best practices for deaf education was new for everyone.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Wilmington, DE

20 Apr

April 10, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Wilmington, DE

DE to NJ

Coincidences? Serendipity? However you might look at chance encounters, my visit to Light UP the Queen began with a wonderful surprise.

After a leisurely train ride from New York City, I walked to the theater and ran right into Mary Hicks – a Bilingual Literacy Specialist from Delaware School for the Deaf who I had been corresponding with on and off over the past year. We had never officially met each other. Yet when we both arrived at the wrong location at exactly the same time, we had instant recognition of each other!

From there, Mary and I, along with a few others, proceeded to the correct location just a couple of blocks away – Film Brothers Movie Co-op.



Tina Betz and Judy Hickman, producers of the events for Light Up the Queen, created an afternoon living room salon where refreshments are shared along with stimulating conversation. Dr. Guillermina Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Delaware Arts Alliance, led the post screening discussion.

It was a diverse audience of deaf and hearing, and representatives of DeLNato (http://www.delnato.org) and Students from the University of Delaware’s “Justice for Palestine” organization. Dr. Gonzalez presented the question “What does it mean to be deaf figuratively speaking?” This perceptive and poetic topic led to discussions about communication socially and politically in relationship to the film. The director of DelNato made a beautiful statement about the closing poem in Deaf Jam: “the strength of the poem is in the components together. Isolated – Tahani’s spoken word component and Aneta’s ASL component would not have had the same impact.” This example of the strength in collaboration is at the heart of the film and one that I hope will be an inspiration to many.


The following morning, Tina Betz and I visited Delaware School for the Deaf viewed student work created by some of Mary Hick’s students and students studying with Graphic Design teacher, Matthew Bezaire.  We had a very fun discussion about their work and filmmaking techniques. Check out dsdeaf.org and their DSDTV youtube channel to see what they are up.

Discussions around an ASL and spoken word poetry event for next year began among Tina, Mary, and I. The discussion was a dream come true and a wonderful culmination to the trip.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Newport News, VA

20 Apr

April 5, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Newport News, VA

train ride to Virginia

Train ride to Virginia.

Newport News

Christopher NNUniv

Christopher Newport University’s campus sparkles with brand new buildings and landscaping. Along with the brilliant campus façade is a student body of inquisitive and vibrant minds. I had the pleasure of beginning my day at the University with a visit to Dr. John Nichols’ Film Studies Class where we discussed interdisciplinary collaboration and diversity in media.  The students asked perceptive and interesting questions about Deaf Jam’s structure.  We also discussed finding ways to approach storytelling when entering an unfamiliar community.

In the evening, I headed to the majestic Ferguson Center, a former high school that has been transformed into an arts complex with two theaters and studio space for dance, music, and theater studies underneath.

Our post screening discussion reflected a line in the film by poet, Bob Holman: “Sign Language Poetry needs to be seen in order for it to take its place in the world of poetries.” Dr. Nichols led a discussion about the relationship of sign language poetry to written poetry.  There is a Center for Digital Humanities at Christopher Newport University. One of the participating professors in the Center who joined the Q&A was Nicole Emmelhainz who is developing course work that will include digital poems. https://dwilicnu.wordpress.com

It was interesting to note that It was an entirely hearing audience at this screening. I was thrilled to see that everyone remained engaged until the end of the talk.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Germantown, MD

7 Apr

April 3, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Germantown, MD


Exterior shot of BlackRock Center for the Arts.

I arrived at BlackRock Center an hour early for a tech check and to get a brief tour of the center. BlackRock is a hub of creative activity including community classes, art installations, performances, lectures and more. Krista Bradley, Executive Director, is a true visionary, who radiates enthusiasm for her work and brings a generous spirit to her multicultural programming.


Krista Bradley chatting with some patrons in the lobby.

Krista along with Education Director, Jillian Levine-Sisson created a dynamic program combining live performances by D.C. based ASL artists with a screening of Deaf Jam and a panel discussion.  The integrated audience of deaf and hearing included children, teens, adults, and seniors. It was a lively afternoon filled with humor and play from the ASL performers whose work included ABC storytelling – a traditional art form that uses the hand shapes from A to Z to tell a story. ABC stories are a comprehensible introduction for non-signers into the creative storytelling practices among ASL users.


A shot of me with a terrific Deaf filmmaker, Roger Vass, who has a company called Rustic Lantern Films.

Our panel discussion got into issues of access for cultural events and educational practices for deaf children. Unfortunately, most deaf children do not have an opportunity to indulge in ASL poetry at school and the art form is endangered as a result. It was an inspired afternoon of cross-cultural conversation with many repercussions yet to unfold.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.

On Tour: Lewisburg, WV

5 Apr

April 1, 2016 | Deaf Jam | Lewisburg, WV

Homemade chocolate chip cookies at check in to the General Lewis Inn was my first “taste” of Lewisburg, West Virginia. I couldn’t think of a better entre into the launch of Deaf Jam’s tour for Mid Atlantic’s On Screen/In Person program. My screening day began with a morning talk/discussion on “Tools for Engaging Diversity in the Arts” with Carnegie Hall Staff members, and artists and educators from the community.  We talked about facilitating collaborations among diverse artists, finding acceptable terms to use, how language can contribute to shaping our assumptions about “disability,” and how we might find ways to become more inclusive as a society. It was an intimate gathering of professionals that allowed for time to get to know everyone and listen to some of the challenges they were facing.


With a few hours to spare between the lecture and screening, I decided to explore the town on foot. Lewisburg is an artsy treasure of a town filled with history, and warm interesting people. As a New Yorker, I had gotten so used to numbing myself to those one sees in passing, that It was a delight to engage in conversation with just about everyone I encountered. By the time I was heading back to screen Deaf Jam at Carnegie Hall that evening, I had labeled myself as a Lewisburg “Groupie.”

FullSizeRender (3)

Carnegie Hall’s hosts, Lynn Creamer and Sara Crickenberger, programmed a terrific evening that included a pre-screening art opening and reception, along with a performance by this year’s Poetry Out Loud West Virginia State winner, Neely Seams, who just happened to be from Lewisburg!

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The most poignant moment of this trip came via a post-screening email from a teacher who came with one of her deaf students: “overwhelmed with thanks to you for not only opening the world of ASL poetry to the hearing world but for giving isolated students from the deaf world the opportunity to see they are not alone.

That kind of connection and impact is what makes all the hard labor that goes into documentary filmmaking so incredibly rewarding.

Post by On Screen/In Person touring filmmaker Judy Lieff.


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