The doors of the Wallace Theatre opened at 6 p.m. March 8, and a crowd hurried in to fill the seats for the first viewing of “Found On South Street,” a Riverside International Film Festival production.
The feature-length film stars Austin Cary, senior liberal studies major. Cary plays the main character, Arthur Hodges Jr., also known as Dominik Bell, as he later changes his name.
As a deaf man, Arthur struggles accepting what he sees as his “disability,” and he attempts to “cure” his deafness. Never truly feeling like he fits in with the deaf community or the hearing, Arthur becomes his own worst enemy. He seeks to find his identity in everything the world has to offer, all the while neglecting his one true need — Jesus Christ.
“This was my first time acting. I did not expect (the final product),” Cary said.
Jonathan Blair, sophomore film studies major, wrote, directed and starred in the film. He has extensive experience with the deaf culture and hearing, giving him the credibility and vision this film needed to be so impactful. Growing up with a deaf mother and a father fluent in American Sign Language, Blair learned ASL as his first language.
“I was hired to write (the film) originally, but since I speak both languages they figured it would make it easy to work with deaf and hearing cast and crew, all in one,” Blair said. “Everyone working on this film was a volunteer. They caught the vision, they caught the passion for the project. It turned out light years beyond anything we could have ever imagined.”
Beginning as a 20-minute film in 2013, the production expanded after they began developing the characters. They knew they had to tell the whole story.
Two and a half years later, the film’s hour-and-45-minute runtime has exceeded all expectations, encapsulating the twofold vision Blair, the cast and crew had for the final product.
“We wanted this to open the eyes of the hearing community, like a window to the world that is all around the deaf community.How they function, how they live as people in the minority,” Blair said. “For the deaf, we wanted to provide them with a story, so they can see their story on screen and know it is being shared.”
The screening received a positive and supportive response from the audience. The viewing event allowed viewers an opportunity to ask questions or express their thoughts about the film. A few deaf audience members expressed their appreciation and thrill over having a movie that tells their side of the story.
Jackson Brown, CBU alumnus, acted in the film and said he found immense joy in being able to contribute to the production.
“I loved being able to naturally express myself through sign language while drawing on my deaf world experience to be able to represent the deaf people group — a challenge, to say the least,” Brown said. “I pray the message in this film would transcend language barriers and reach out to both deaf and hearing communities where this film is present.”
Cary agreed with Brown’s hope for the movie and added his desire to see the movie’s success in the community and beyond.
“I would like the hearing audience to understand there are many deaf people who do not view themselves as disabled. While some others, even deaf — I was included — viewed deafness as a problem needing to be fixed,” Cary said. “I hope the audience understands you need to accept yourself for who you are, no matter what people tell you. Most importantly, find your identity in God.”
Viewers of “Found on South Street” will see comedy, romance and drama all tying in to create a masterpiece teaching deaf and hearing about finding identity, while also showing the struggles and triumphs of the deaf community.
The official screening will be held April 3 at the Fox Performing Arts Center for the 2015 Riverside International Film Festival.
Tickets can be purchased at riversidefilm.org or through the film’s Facebook page.