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Young Gallaudet alums shine on the screen, and at first deaf film festival

By The Reliable Source

Shoshannah Stern and Russell Harvard at the Worldeaf Cinema Festival, 2010. (Dick Moore for Gallaudet University)

Shoshannah Stern on Fox's "Lie to Me." (Greg Gayne/Fox)

You prepare to enter a different world at the WORLDEAF Cinema Festival, the first deaf film festival at Gallaudet University -- and you find a surprisingly familiar one.

Sure, they're all signing instead of speaking. But the sparkly young stars are just as charismatic at the ones at a L.A. premiere. They've all got a movie idea that would be amazing with the proper financing -- just like at any indie-film confab. Oh, and everyone's complaining about their agent. But more on that later.

WORLDEAF on Thursday kicked off four days of discussions and screenings -- movies by deaf filmmakers and movies by hearing filmmakers about the deaf experience. The highlight may be a visit Saturday by Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, the deaf thespian community's crossover pioneer. But on Thursday, Gallaudet put the spotlight on some lesser-known deaf showbiz professionals, including two young rising-star alums.

Shoshannah Stern, 30, is best known for her recurring roles on "Lie to Me" and "Weeds." Russell Harvard, 29, played Daniel Day-Lewis's grown son in "There Will Be Blood" -- yes, the "I've abandoned my son, I've abandoned my boy!" one. Pals during their undergraduate years, they recently starred together in the forthcoming indie flick "Hamill," about a deaf wrestler. At a campus panel discussion, they bantered with others about their career challenges.

Does being deaf help you stand out in Hollywood? Or does it limit you? Howie Seago, an older actor on the panel, didn't offer much hope. Though he had a role on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and recently played Hamlet's Ghost in Oregon, "for an actor of my skills and contacts and experience, I'm not close to where my hearing peers are," he said, namedropping a few. "Maybe it's my age."

"My struggle is when I go into mainstream roles," said Stern, complaining about writers who've done little research into the deaf world. "They want me to be deaf, but what kind of deaf person do you want me to be?"

Harvard, though, praised Stern for going after roles written for speaking actors, such as one on TV's "Jericho" that the writers then adapted for her. He complained that his agent only sends him out for deaf roles.

"I need to sit down with my agent and educate him," he said.

Said Stern: "Or fire your agent."

By The Reliable Source  | November 5, 2010; 1:03 AM ET
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Congrats to Gallaudet for holding this film festival.

An observation from personal experience:

Perhaps if a majority of deaf actors/artists didn't have huge chips on their shoulders towards people who can hear, they might advance further in their careers.

Posted by: exPostie | November 6, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

@Expostie--Comments like that may be exactly why some D/HH people are audiophobes. What exactly is your source of statistics to say that MOST Deaf actors and artists have a chip on their shoulders toward the hearing community? Are you saying that hearing artists don't often have a "Chip" on their shoulders too?

Once again, a hearing person invades the Deaf world, like a bull in a china shop, uninvited, and inflicts utter audism--and probably has no idea that they are doing it. The little Deafies are just supposed to sit back and take it I imagine. Live one day in my life, having to tolerate comments like the one you just made all day, and see how accomodating your attitude is toward people with your simplistic mentality. It may just be that you are mistaking someone else's refusal to kiss your butt as a bad attitude...

So who actually won the awards? What did Marlee give her speech on? Come on, give us the juice!!! ;)

Posted by: hethanangel | November 7, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

on a Deaf specific dating site, it requires members to disclose their condition upfront.

Posted by: lilliandeaf | November 8, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

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