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Reaching New Audiences, Through Deaf Eyes

Documentary about the past 200 years of Deaf life in America gains surprising international attention and inspires an award-winning author to write a children's book.

April 4, 2012 | By NEH Staff

Through Deaf Eyes, a National Endowment for the Humanities funded documentary is a U.S. based history of the Deaf community that has gained surprising international attention.   In 2009 Through Deaf Eyes was selected to be part of the American Documentary Showcase.  Funded by a grant from the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Showcase highlights the value of documentaries in fostering understanding and cooperation.  Independent documentary filmmakers share their work with audiences around the world, offering multiple views of American society and encouraging dialogue and debate.

In January 2012 Larry Hott, director of Through Deaf Eyes, traveled to Algeria to talk with audiences about filmmaking.   Hott was able to show the film to over 250 people including film students and reporters, professors and government officials, as well as representatives of the national federation of the Deaf in Algeria.  This was Hott’s third American Documentary Showcase trip and his first to an Arab country.  His first trip was to Ecuador in 2009; the second included Colombia and Venezuela in 2010.   The film was also shown via the Showcase in Myanmar and Paraguay.  American Documentary Showcase presentations are a chance to discuss the independent filmmaking process and open channels of communication.  When Through Deaf Eyes is shown it also becomes a time to challenge accepted notions of what Deaf people can accomplish and encourage local Deaf communities to document their own stories.

When first broadcast in 2007 the film was widely shown within the PBS network.  WETA and Gallaudet coordinated 57 screenings, many in public libraries and on university campuses.  Through Deaf Eyes was shown at festivals and earned awards such as the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Journalism Award, and the Organization of American Historians Erik Barnouw Award.  The film continues to be used in classrooms across the country to expand student’s understanding of American Sign Language, the history of cultural community of Deaf people in the U.S. and controversies over ways to teach deaf children.

Brian Selznick, winner of the 2008 Caldecott Award for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007), discovered Through Deaf Eyes while researching ideas for a new, visually-based children's book.  The result was Wonderstruck (Scholastic, 2011), which follows two characters, Ben and Rose, who venture out to change their lives. Set fifty years apart, their two stories – Ben’s told in words, Rose’s in pictures – weave back and forth on a journey of discovery.  Read an article about Wonderstruck and its connections to Through Deaf Eyes in Humanities magazine

Bridging Cultures is an agency-wide initiative, engages the power of the humanities to promote understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives within the United States and abroad.

Through Deaf Eyes

Through Deaf Eyes is a production of  WETA Washington, D.C. and Florentine Films/Hott Productions in association with Gallaudet University.  In 2004, the National Endowment for the Humanities gave a $500,000 production grant to WETA to support the making of Through Deaf Eyes.  In 1999, NEH supported the traveling exhibition “History Through Deaf Eyes,” developed at Gallaudet University, with a $100,000 grant.