The Programme Director of the Film & TV programme at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) has shot a short film called Signs & Gestures in close collaboration with participants with a visual or hearing impairment. The aim of Dr Itandehui Jansen’s project, which is currently in the editing stage, was to address how commonplace it is for able-bodied actors to represent characters with an impairment and explored how to make film sets more accessible.

The film tells the story of Clara, a florist who relies on smell, touch and sound, who has recently been chatting with art student Simon on a dating app and looking forward to meeting him in person. However, she has not told him about her limited sight, and this leads to an unexpected situation during their first date.

“After participating in different panels on diversity in the film industry, it became clear that in order to improve diversity and inclusivity within the film industry, it is essential to engage with diversity and inclusivity early on throughout practice-based film teaching,” said Itandehui, whose film was supported by a College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS) Challenge Investment Fund Award, “This project is hence meant as a starting point to develop teaching approaches for film practice that highlights diversity and inclusivity in different respects.”

"“I hope the short film is enjoyable for a diverse audience. We tried to represent active and independent characters and I hope we got this across.”"

Dr Itandehui Jansen, Programme Director, Film & TV

The academic consulted both the University of Edinburgh’s British Sign Language (BSL) Officer and the Chair of Childhood Visual Impairment in the development stage of the project. “The main challenge throughout the project has been our lack of knowledge, education and habits with regards to inclusion and accessibility as film makers,” said Itandehui, “For example, we sometimes were planning for BSL translation where it wasn’t asked for, or did not think of including BSL interpretation where it was actually required. Understanding when to involve BSL interpreters was something we discovered through working on the project.”

The film was made with the participation of actor Craig McCulloch, who is a BSL user and studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and the actress Grace Whitford, who is blind and currently studying at the Guildford School of Acting. Rebecca Robin, who appeared in Outlaw King also acts in this project.

The project was filmed with a crew of ECA Film students and graduates and with support of the Technical Learning Services Team (Ross Buchanan, Julie Bills, Eiko Emersleben and Allan Jardine). The team filmed in a studio at ECA with paintings by Fine Art students also appearing in the film.

“I think staff collaborations with students and alumni are beneficial to both parties, as they gain the opportunity to work with more experienced filmmakers. At the same time, staff members are able to work with talented, emerging film professionals,” said Itandehui, “I hope the short film is enjoyable for a diverse audience. We tried to represent active and independent characters and I hope we got this across.”

At the time of writing Signs & Gestures is in post-production.

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