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Deaf Jam

Judy Lieff 2011

In Deaf Jam, Aneta Brodski seizes the day. She is a deaf teen introduced to American Sign Language (ASL) Poetry, who then boldly enters the spoken word slam scene. In a wondrous twist, Aneta, an Israeli immigrant living in New York City, eventually meets Tahani, a hearing Palestinian slam poet. The two young women embark on a hearing/deaf collaboration, a performance duet that is a metaphor for the complex realities they share.

See More
Running Time: 53/70 min.
Subject(s): Arts and Culture, Biography, Conflicts, Creative, Disability, Family, Gender, Middle Eastern Studies see all »
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Producer(s): Judy Lieff
Cinematographer: Melissa Donovan, Claudia see all »
Editor(s): Keiko Deguchi
Production Company: Made-By-Hand, LLC


  • "The most compelling films at the Thessaloniki festival this year all featured compelling individuals ... Similarly, Judy Lieff's Deaf Jam, about the phenomenon of the deaf getting into the poetry-jamming movement, is a riveting documentary simply because the deaf Israeli teenager at the center of the film, Aneta Brodski, is so charmingly expressive, especially when she pantomines the sperm and egg dance that led to her birth.: "And that is me!"

    The Huffington Post
    Karin Badt
  • "ASL poetry relies heavily on visuals and movement, and Lieff's film follows suit, with lensing on a variety of digital formats, colorful tech wizardry and fast-paced cutting. A hip soundtrack further adds to the pic's street cred for hearing auds."
    By Boyd Van Hoeij,
  • “Deaf Jam is a documentary you can't take your eyes off of. If you do, you're probably missing the point.”
    Charleston City Paper
  • “The star of this year's Boston Jewish Film Festival might be Aneta Brodski, a deaf teen firecracker with stories in her heart”
    New England Arts
    Wicked Local
  • "Adam Hartzell... offered what is, to me, the best film of the year: Judy Lieff's Deaf Jam, a mesmerizing celebration of American Sign Language..."
    Signs of the Times
  • "Lively and illuminating… Deaf Jam focuses on the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens, NY, where high school students become the beneficiaries of a grant to pursue American Sign Language poetry writing. Recommended."
    Video Librarian
  • New England Arts Review
  • Charleston City Paper Review

Festival & Awards

  • Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival - 2011
  • Woodstock Film Festival – (in competition) - 2011
  • Mill Valley Film Festival - 2011
  • Boston Jewish Film Festival – Center piece film - 2011
  • Starz Denver Film Festival - 2011
  • NY Jewish Film Festival @Lincoln Center
  • 35th Goteburg International Film Festival - 2011
  • Atlanta Jewish Film Festival - 2012
  • San Diego Jewish Film Festival - 2012
  • San Francisco Independent Film Festival
  • San Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
  • Jewish Museum High School Film Festival
  • Jacob Burns Center – Westchester Jewish FF

additional materials

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  • Director's Notes

    I am thrilled to be sharing Deaf Jam with you.  It has been a long and interesting journey bringing this project to fruition, and meeting Aneta Brodski – the deaf teenager who joined me on this journey – has made it all the more rewarding.

    The idea for Deaf Jam began while I was a visiting artist teaching video/dance workshops to deaf high school students at Marlton School in Los Angeles. During one of my residencies, my students created video poems and I became privy to the extraordinary world of American Sign Language Poetry. I also was invited to a crowded teen poetry slam that was bursting with enthusiasm and talent. It occurred to me that it would be great if deaf poets were involved in that exciting youth movement filled with honest self-expression and political awareness.

    I learned that few, if any, deaf poets had ever participated in the slams. In fact, most hearing teen poets I spoke to had never seen ASL poetry but were intrigued by the language.  In the midst of my research I met Steve Zeitlin, Executive Director of City Lore, and Liz Wolter, a literature and English teacher at Lexington School for the Deaf.  City Lore, a non-profit organization, was in the midst of producing a biennial poetry festival in Manhattan that included Deaf poets and ASL scholars. Liz had been facilitating ASL poetry electives at Lexington school, bringing in renowned Poets, and producing some video poetry projects in collaboration with New York City poet guru, Bob Holman. Through Liz and the umbrella of City Lore, the Deaf Jam project and documentary moved forward.

    What I learned in the process of making this film was that most deaf students have not been exposed to ASL poetry – an engaging and creative form of expression – and that many deaf students are born into hearing families where sign language is not practiced.  What began as a mission to bring together hearing and deaf teens through poetry, became an initiative to revitalize an endangered art form.

    One could say that ASL poetry is truly an American art form and part of our cultural heritage.  To quote Bob Holman: “The poetry needs to be seen in order to take its place in the World of Poetries.”  It is my hope that Deaf Jam will contribute to making that a reality. Inspired by the making of the film, a monthly ASL slam night was established at the Bowery Poetry Club by a colleague of one the project mentors, Robert Arnold. That series began six years ago. Doug Ridloff has continued to carry the torch and hosts the monthly series that is now simultaneously web cast.

    Communication and self-confidence are crucial to success in life, and empowerment lies in emphasizing what is unique to oneself. For the Deaf, many educational systems are focused on merging the Deaf into the hearing world without providing education about their cultural identity. I hope this film will inspire a new generation of deaf poets and provide a window into an extraordinary art form.

  • Production Notes

    The film had its origins in a series of arts-in-education workshops and public programs called The Poetry Dialogues, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. The Dialogues created a team of deaf poets comprised of talented high school students from the Lexington School for the Deaf, JS 47 and Murray Bergtram, three Deaf high schools in New York City.

    Filmed over a period of four years, the story begins at Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, Queens where poetry workshops were being led by internationally renowned ASL storytellers and poets – Peter Cook, and Manny Hernandez. The goal of the project was to revitalize an endangered art form – ASL poetry – and empower Deaf youth. A two-camera crew including Claudia Raschke-Robinson, Melissa Donovan, Marcus Burnett, and Martina Radwan shot most scenes. Scenes outside of school were shot with a single camera by either the film crew or by the characters in the film.


  • A Note on ASL Poetry

    The visual power of sign language poetry as a tool for self-expression resonates for both hearing and Deaf poets. In the United States, many schools now offer sign language as a foreign language option. Just as English has become the dominant language of use globally in business, communications, and other fields, American Sign Language has become the default language among signers internationally (e.g. SignMark, the Finnish deaf rap artist who is signed with Warner Music Record Label, uses ASL in all of his songs in order to reach a wide deaf audience. See Overall, the public’s interested in sign language is growing.

    Deaf poetry has been described  “as a kind of writing in space…  a language in motion, and, like oral poetry, truly inseparable from its realization in performance.” (Edward S. Klima and Ursula Bellugi, “Poetry Without Sound,” 1983). There are features in ASL poetry that are analogous to literary poetry. The similarity of hand shapes, for instance, acts as alliteration, and using the same hand shape repetitively works as rhyme. In ASL poetry, a dramatic visual art form, the poets use body language, rhythm, and movement to create a cinematic equivalent to oral poetry.

  • Outreach

    90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Many of these children are brought up in households where sign language is not used and their most effective form for communicating their deepest thoughts is closed off.


     Deaf Jam Reaches Out is a two year national initiative that aims to engage Deaf communities in the U.S. and beyond, revitalize the endangered art form of American Sign Language (ASL) poetry and storytelling, and empower deaf youth.  The goal is to cultivate communities of young ASL poets and link them with their hearing peers engaged in the burgeoning spoken word movement. The intention is to inspire deaf teenagers to use ASL poetry as a rich expressive medium for communication, and to provide deaf teens with the tools and motivation to participate in poetry slams – competitions of verbal artistry that have become an international phenomenon. Currently there are slam scenes in Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, Austria, Israel, Switzerland, Nepal, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Denmark, South Korea, India and Greece (see

  • Television Broadcasts

    U.S. Broadcast Premiere:    PBS Independent Lens, 2011/2012 Season

    German Broadcast                BR’s magazine “Sehen statt Hören”

    (“To see instead of to hear” ; for hearing impaired viewers)

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