Most of our teaching of filmmaking belongs to the tradition of realist documentary which constitutes the standard for much visual anthropology. On the last day of our workshops with VN Naik School for the Deaf I introduced a different approach to filmmaking, mostly to be able to test methods in advance of Phase 2 of the project. Initially we taught our students to film testimonies (people signing, to each other or directly to the camera) and to break down actions into shots that together would tell a story. With what I called emotion films the idea was to use three shots to evoke a feeling, instead of representing it directly. To push the kids to think in terms of evocation instead of representation, I forbade them to film human subjects, with the exception of the final shot of the short film, which had to be, simply, the sign for the emotion being evoked in the previous three shots.
Since the beginning of the project we realised that visual examples are fundamental in teaching deaf children about filmmaking. So to explain the concept of the exercise, rather than relying on lengthy interpretations, I prepared two quick examples, which I include here:
The results of the ‘experiment’ were definitely positive. The young deaf filmmakers were creative and original, and enjoyed very much watching each other’s work and trying to guess what the emotion was before the final revealing shot. The rationale for this concept was working towards better communication of feelings and emotions in deaf youth, something that according to the literature is in need of support in many contexts in which high competence in sign language is not widespread.
A selection of emotion films made by the kids during the workshop can be found here.