‘Power in our Hands’ is a compilation of historical archive footage of the Deaf community. The idea for the film began in 2004 when, in an exciting twist of fate, a group of builders accidentally stumbled across the long-lost film from the BDA, dating back to the 1930s.
The forgotten footage has now been compiled into a documentary (lasting 70 minutes) with its narrative being the recognition of British Sign Language (BSL) and Deaf rights. Unlike the Civil Rights movements of other minority groups, this isn’t a topic that is well-known in the hearing community and the footage gives a fascinating insight into what the Deaf community has had to go through in their struggle for equality.
Rather than focusing on medical definitions of hearing loss, the film presents Deaf people as an active and resilient community that have long-campaigned for their language to be recognised. From the social scenes of the 1930s, to the march for BSL recognition in 2000 – the documentary gives people a glimpse into Deaf culture with previously unseen footage being revealed for the very first time.
Dr Terry Riley OBE, Chair of the British Deaf Association said:
“To see this old film footage was an emotional occasion for me. For many years, I never really knew or saw my language on screen. So to be able to sit down at the BFI and see BSL on a par with any other language was a wonderful thing. To watch a bygone era – one I thought was lost forever to the world is just magical. Clips like the old missionaries, with fingers dancing up and down like lightening and Deaf people really enjoying life, dancing in the street – what joyous years they were. These films will give Deaf children a feeling of history and pride knowing BSL has been around for hundreds of years.”
Project Manager Jemma Buckley said:
“The really important thing which is highlighted during the film, is that British Sign Language cannot be recorded in any other way other than film – it cannot be fully captured when written down or photographed – so this is the only way the language can be preserved for future generations. The preservation of BSL is one of BDA’s key aims so this is a very important project for the organisation.
“Power in Our Hands combines archive footage with present-day interviews to reveal the secret history and heritage of the Deaf community in the UK. Although largely hidden from the mainstream, this is an incredibly strong and closely connected community. Over the past 18 months we have managed to identify almost 500 people in our archive footage dating back to the 1930s – some of whom are interviewed during the documentary and some of whom also attended the film premiere.
“The process of gathering stories and memories about the events taking place in this rare footage has really enabled our archive to come alive – an amazing achievement that wouldn’t have been possible in traditional film archive projects that focus predominantly on geographical location.”
The film premiered at BFI Southbank on 11 November 2015 with a large number of people from the Deaf community in attendance and the public screenings will take place in cinemas across the UK from February 2016.
Rachel Hasted, Heritage Lottery Fund, London Committee member, said:
“Power in our Hands is an inspiring documentary which captures the stories of those who have lived through a period of significant change. We’re extremely proud to be the main funder of this film as well as the wider Deaf Visual Archive which is set to become an important online resource for the future.”
In addition to the documentary, the BDA has created teaching resources for use in both Deaf and mainstream schools and the footage will also be uploaded to a unique website: www.sharedeafarchive.org which also goes live on 11 November.
SHARE currently comprises over 15,000 items. Users will be able to view historical pictures and footage as well as upload their own videos or footage – opening up the resource to both the national and international Deaf community. This will be key in helping to unite deaf organisations across the world and provide a platform through which they are able to collate interesting and unique footage.
For media information, please contact:
BDA Film Heritage
T: +44 (0)20 7697 4140