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In the heyday of silent films, deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences flocked to movie houses and nickelodeons. Some Chicago film buffs are working hard to bring audiences back to theatres.

With the advent of "talkies," movies became less visual and more reliant on sound. When Joshua Flanders started the Festival for Cinema of the Deaf in 2002, he hoped to change all that, returning visual storytelling to movies and once again making film accessible to deaf audiences.

At the festival, some movies focus on deaf protagonists. Other films rely on different ways of communicating their ideas and plots. Deaf audiences get to enjoy the big screen experience when big-budget movies are screened with subtitles. And for deaf children excited about these widened horizons, there are workshops where they learn how to make their own movies.

Related Links

Check out some of the other film festivals that happen in Illinois every year: the International Children's Film Festival and the Latino Film Festival, both taking place in Chicago, the Big Muddy Film Fest in Carbondale and the Beyond Normal Film Fest in the city of Normal.

Visit with Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, one of the most visible hearing-impaired actresses working today, who hails from Morton Grove and got her theatrical start on Chicago stages.

Explore the ways other artists with disabilities continue to be creative at the Chicago Festival of Disability Arts and Culture.

Travel back to the era before "talkies" hit the screen at Silent Era a site dedicated to silent films.

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Join Festival for Cinema of the Deaf founders Joshua Flanders and Liz Tannenbaum in their quest to find a new, more inclusive film-making language.


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A festival-goer learns filmmaking skills.

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Young fans enjoy a day at the movies.

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Yutaka Osawa, director of a movie about a tenacious deaf woman, poses with festival director Liz Tannebaum, CIMI director Joshua Flanders, actress Marlee Matlin, and the star of Osawa's film, Akiko Oshidari, with her Japanese interpreter Asako.


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