Deaf documentary film director's essay #1

Movies for an all-inclusive society

I Want to Make Movies!           
by Ayako Imamura*

I was born deaf. Unlike now, when I was in elementary school there were hardly any captions for TV programs, and so I couldn’t really enjoy watching TV with my family. So sometimes my father would rent foreign movie videos, like “Rocky” or “ET”, that had subtitles, and then I was able to see the images on the screen and the words at the same time, and that really made me happy, because for the first time, I was really able to enjoy watching the TV with my family.

From these movies, I felt various emotions, and they also gave me courage, and the feeling and the idea that someday I wanted to make my own movies! I wanted to make movies that would help make many people feel energy and courage! That’s how those movies had made me feel.

But at that time, because at Japanese universities there was no lecture-information- guarantee (the guarantee that deaf students could have note-takers and/or interpreters or other means of getting the information of university lectures). I couldn’t study what I wanted to study – how to make movies. I entered Aichi University of Education, but because I couldn’t study movie-making there, I took a year off to go to California State University at Northridge (CSUN) to study movie-making.

Of all the universities in the United States, CSUN has the second largest number of deaf students, and there is a student support center for supplying deaf and hard-of-hearing students with interpreters, note-takers, or computer-interpreters to guarantee that they can get all the information from their classes.

When I first saw and experienced those services, I was overwhelmed by the excellence of the system. I was at first surprised, and then encouraged by the idea that, since deaf students were paying the same tuition as hearing students, they were entitled to receive that same information from the lectures, and that the lecture-information-guarantee was only natural and to be expected.

I realized that it was alright for deaf people, as human beings, to expect to live and enjoy life just like hearing people could. I realized that deaf people didn’t have to expect less, or to give up on their dreams.

When I returned to Aichi University of Education, I demanded an interpreter for my classes, and through the cooperation of many people, it became a reality. Even now, I can’t forget the feeling I had the first time I had an interpreter for a class.

For the first time, what had been a dull black-and-white, became filled with color, what had been one-dimensional became three-dimensional, and everything became full of life and entered not only my eyes, but my mind and body and heart as well. I discovered many things that might seem minor to others, like, “oh the teacher uses a lot of Osaka dialect,” or “that student looks quiet, but he has a lot interesting ideas,” but to me, things like these were very interesting discoveries. Before that, I just sat in classes and read what the note-taker wrote on the paper, but didn’t really feel like I was
participating in the class.

Some of my friends have demanded interpreters or note-takers at their universities, but have been told that they should just try to overcome their problems with their own extra effort. I was shocked when some of them told me that all they could do was sit and wait during the lectures, and after they were over they would just copy the notes that their friends had taken.

And I learned that this kind of thing was not an exception, but common at Japanese universities. So I thought that this will never do, that universities seem to have no idea about the lecture-information-guarantee that deaf and hard-of-hearing students are entitled to, and I decided to make a documentary movie that would show the problems that deaf students have, and also show universities that have set up lecture-information-guarantee systems for their deaf students. This is how the DVD documentary “University Life” was born.

*Ayako wrote an originally Japanese essay for a pamphlet titled "Hataraku Hiroba," published in May, 2010, and it was translated by William John Herlofsky, a professor of the Foreign Languages Department of Nagoya Gakuin University.

English original essay in Ayako's Japanese blog:

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