Film Forward

This One-Of-A-Kind Summer Camp Is Giving Deaf Teenagers A Chance To Be Filmmakers

"We are incredibly proud of these campers and they never cease to amaze us."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

The representation of deaf and hard of hearing people in the film and television industry is an important facet in the ongoing conversation around diversity in media. In recent years, films and television series such as A Quiet Place and Switched at Birth have been praised for their casting of deaf actors, while the issue of closed captioning for deaf moviegoers has earned attention on social media.

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Of course, more work can be done across the board, but there has been significantly less mainstream discussion about deaf people behind the camera. A unique program called Deaf Film Camp is working to change that. The summer camp, hosted by Camp Mark Seven in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, welcomes deaf and hard of hearing children ages 13 to 16. Campers learn the basics of filmmaking in an inclusive environment, communicating with instructors and peers through American Sign Language (ASL). No prior film experience is needed for kids to participate.

The camp was conceived by Stacy Lawrence, Charmaine Hlibok, and Jared Musano, and launched in 2013. The first summer, 25 campers participated. This year, that number has increased to 40. 

"The Deaf Film Camp is considered a transitional program and one-of-a-kind camp in the country for deaf and hard of hearing children to learn all about the fundamentals of filmmaking: editing, cinematography, makeup skills, photography, graphic design, and animation using Apple products like Final Cut Pro X," DFC Director Michael Kaufer told A Plus in an email.

Kaufer has served as the camp's director for three years, putting together "a team of professional filmmakers, writers, photographers, and an animation expert that will inspire deaf and hard of hearing children to maximize their potential."

Photo by Clare Cassidy, courtesy of Deaf Film Camp

This year's camp runs from Sunday, July 29, to Friday, August 10. The daily schedule includes several hours of classes, balanced with fun outdoor activities such as swimming and water skiing, and hands-on time spent actually filming projects on state-of-the-art equipment, taking advantage of the beautiful landscape. The final films produced by the campers are then showcased on Parents' Night

You may have already seen some of the campers' past creations. Videos for Phillip Phillips' "Home" and Pharrell's "Happy," featuring kids and staffers signing the songs' lyrics, have gone viral in recent years, with more 2 million views combined. A project produced last year, titled "All for You" (above), features a cute story told in reverse, and shows off techniques such as overhead shots, long takes, and unexpected camera angles — not to mention great performances.

"It is our mission to provide those young filmmakers the tools and skills to develop their own creations," Kaufer shared. "Some of them return to build on their skills including teamwork, media literacy, and accountability, all while learning from professional deaf filmmakers. We have had campers who have returned four years in a row. One has already found a passion for photography and recently started up his own business."

Some former campers have also gone on to study filmmaking in college. Hunter Luther, who attended the camp for three summers, is now an intern with the program, and even created a promotional video for the camp (above), which showcases the camp's beautiful grounds and includes interviews with campers who describe their experience as "amazing" and "magical," and list the many skills they learned, from setting up shots and acting, to editing and creating logos.

Photo by Clare Cassidy, courtesy of Deaf Film Camp

Many parents have also praised the camp for giving their kids a chance to express themselves, make friends, and become acquainted with the art of filmmaking in an accessible space. "Deaf Film Camp, quite literally, changed our daughter's life," shared one parent in the camp's online testimonials. "She was excited to go, but came home almost a new person. She is confident in who she is, and is dedicated to doing well at school in order to pursue a career in film. Thank you for helping to direct her life."

"We are incredibly proud of these campers," Kaufer told A Plus, "and they never cease to amaze us with their own curiosity, inquisitiveness, and excitement for new ideas and pushing the limits of what they can do."

You can learn more about Deaf Film Camp on the Camp Mark Seven website.

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