The audience of the Wallace Theatre on March 7 was composed of those chattering quietly and others who were using their hands to speak as all awaited the anniversary screening of “Found on South Street,” a film by Jonathan Blair, California Baptist University alumnus, that aims to teach people the value of respect within the deaf community.
Since its premiere March 8, 2015, the movie has won multiple awards, taking home more than 15 from the 2015 Global Independent Film Awards and has received great acclaim for its accessibility for both hearing and deaf individuals.
“I have always subliminally veered toward visual arts that my mom could participate in and that she could be a part of,” Jonathan Blair said. “As a child of a deaf adult, I’ve always been visually oriented in communication. Things that affected me early were always unspoken, they were always images.”
After the screening of the film, the audience waved their hands in excitement while the cast and crew took the stage for a Q&A session. They discussed plans for a sequel, told stories of deaf people coming to Christ and how William “Rusty” Bailey, mayor of Riverside, happened to meet the crew while location-scouting and played a key in the film coming together.
“I was truly blown away with the professionalism of the film, especially for first-time artists,” Bailey said. “It was providential that I happened to be there that day, meet them and hear their plans and to be involved in whatever way I was. That’s a call as a Christian, to do what we can with our blessings, so this was just kind of an exciting, serendipitous God thing and I am kind of speechless in terms of describing it.”
The plot revolves around a deaf man, played by Austin Cary, CBU alumnus, as he invents a controversial device to help restore hearing before losing himself to his vices. The movie has a powerful spiritual message and uses the ongoing divisiveness within the deaf community over cochlear implants as a means to convey the beauty of acceptance.
“There’s so many facets to the deaf community itself,” Jonathan Blair said. “They all have their different beliefs on what it means to be deaf, so a major theme is mutual respect between all cultures, but I think the core of the film is identity and what or who we allow to define us.”
Dr. Daniel Blair, CBU assistant professor of American Sign Language, director for the Center for Deaf Studies and Jonathan’s father, said requests for the film to be screened have been coming in as the cast and crew hope to eventually show it in every state. He said for their next film they want to take it beyond the story of a man in Southern California to a place where opportunities are not as abundant.
“We want to take our audience to, say, Malawi or Guatemala, where deaf children growing all the way up into adulthood have no language, that don’t know their name and they live very often in total poverty with no hope,” Daniel Blair said. “They’re dehumanized and we want to expose that both cinematically with a movie but also with an accompanying documentary to let folks know this is not just a movie. It’s reality and we can make such a huge difference.”