• Samuel W. Sanso

Charlie Ainsworth - Angry Deaf People productions

Updated: May 4, 2019

"My brother and I spent countless moments reliving Indiana Jones, Alien, the Matrix, and other films of the same vein. It was my brother’s intense passion in films that lured me into a bigger film world that is the independent scene. To this day, I credit all of my basic knowledge and understanding of film to him. I couldn’t have done it without you, Jon”

But the independent film scene turned out to be quite the harsh environment for him to get into, the films shown at festivals are very seldomly captioned, and Charlie was born deaf. But he doesn’t let this bring him down, in fact, it’s what’s driving him forward. He doesn’t only want to have an impact through his own films, but he wants to drive forward a larger movement in the film community. Bringing deaf people into the film scene, and making the independent film scene accessible for them to enjoy.

“I want to watch your film but it’s not CAPTIONED”

This is their slogan and their vision. He started selling T-Shirts with this message for people to wear to film festivals. Most filmmakers don’t even think about that, how by not captioning their shorts they’re cutting off an entire audience of passionate people who’d love to watch them.

Charlie was born deaf, but still succeeded through the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, where he became fluent in American Sign Language and written English. After high-school he double-majored in History and Theater Arts, which brought him to Austin to teach history at the Texas School for the Deaf. But even though it was a wonderful experience, he always had a nagging feeling inside of him - he had to create something. He remembered his passion for film, and started studying screenwriting and film theory.

  • What interested you in filmmaking / what you specialize in? As a Deaf person, I live my life visually. Our language is as visual as you can get. That lured me into the most visual medium of art, film. I specialize in screenwriting.

So he went on and founded Angry Deaf People productions. He chose such a bold name to express the growing frustrations of the deaf people with the entertainment industry. From the hiring of hearing actors into misrepresenting roles of deaf people to not being able to attend film festivals as most of the films aren’t captioned. Last winter, they had a film selected for a festival, but out of all the films there, only two were captioned. One of those being their own. Even films with captions available weren’t captioned because “that’s not what the director intended” and it’s just not the “norm”. And there are countless more stories the same, they couldn’t participate in discussions with the filmmakers or learn from them, and they can’t watch their films.

You see, Angry Deaf People productions is more than a production company for deaf artists, it’s a movement, it’s a message. Both through their productions, and outside of them, they are trying to provide more opportunities to the deaf community and diversify the voices in filmmaking, bringing a whole new immersive visually-driven kind of storytelling. And of course, normalize captioning!

They have worked with a Deaf-owned company based in Washington, D.C. - Copper & Water on three short films. Their first was The Pastman, a sci-fi short offering a whole new perspective on time travel. The dialogue is in ASL, which flips the experience on hearing audiences of reading captions and offers a new type of storytelling. Then they made two more really short films to express more directly their frustration of being a deaf filmmaker and day-to-day nuisances. All of these were produced with a completely deaf cast and crew, offering inaccessible experiences to a whole new group of people, and making sure everyone on set deeply understands what they’re working to portray. In this way, the whole cast and crew are much more connected to the project in a much more personal way rare to these types of projects.

  • Do you have any exciting future projects lined up? Yes! We have three short films lined up and ready to be produced. And we've started to look into crowdfunding for an exciting project we want to do in the coming months as well.

Apart from that, they’re working with a deaf playwright on adapting one of his scripts for the screen - which would be their full feature film debut! Aiming to shoot in 2020, Charlie hopes to only continue to grow from there! There are so many ideas coming in from all directions from the deaf community, being able to express themselves in such an immersive new way, they hope to get them all made and out there, growing their voice, impact and normalization!

For the further future he has some really big ambitious projects he would love to tackle, from a film noir of a town overrun by deaf residents to a satire about the deaf community and an organization pushing them to learn to lip read instead of sign language, and even a fantasy exploring the purpose of deaf people on Earth.

  • Where do you go from here? As any other often-excluded minorities, we have a lot to prove. We have the pressure of creating a high quality, breathtaking stories AND marketing them to a hearing audience. So, we’re looking into innovative ways to blend in the best of the both worlds. With these innovative, easy to produce films - we would be able to “beef up” our resumes and then break into the larger film industry.

And he is confident he is in the right place to accomplish these goals, Austin boasts one of the largest deaf communities in the US and is ranked one of the best places for independent films. The result? The perfect place to create a Deaf independent film community.

Make sure to follow Charlie’s and Angry Deaf People's progress into the future and support their message! You can buy their T-Shirts and see their projects through their website here. And make sure to follow them on Instagram / Facebook for updates!

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