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Fund This Film: Deaf Filmmaker’s ‘Jester’ Is Inspired By His Experience Hearing Music For the First…

By  · Published on November 11th, 2013

Fund This Film: Deaf Filmmaker’s ‘Jester’ Is Inspired By His Experience Hearing Music For the First Time

As most websites do, we here at FSR get tons of emails from people trying to sell us on something, and a large number of them start off with the writer claiming to be a huge fan of the site for a long time. But usually you can tell that it’s b.s. The one I got from Austin Chapman last week, though, was genuine. The guy has indeed been reading us for years, and I can find his comments to prove it. That sincerity makes me want to support his dream and goal to make a feature film even more. It also translates to his filmmaking, which has the sort of heart, passion and beauty that can only come from someone with great honesty and care. He’s also been shooting movies since he was a little kid, so the experience of doing this for a while helps, too. The new project will be his first feature, and it’s called Jester.

I should point out that Chapman is profoundly deaf, because that’s not only why he’s been getting some media coverage about his crowdfunding effort but it’s also something that informs this film. Jester will be sort of an extended remake of his 2011 short Eleven Eleven (pictured above), in which he starred in a semi-autobiographical story of a young deaf man falling in love. (You should watch that 13-minute work, which I’m not alone in saying has a sort of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind tone, here.) Since that film was made Chapman got new hearing aids that allowed him to hear music for the first time, understandably changing his life very dramatically. Especially as an artist. The feature version will apparently incorporate that new experience.

What I love about Chapman’s films, after going back through a bunch of them, is the attention to visual storytelling. It makes total sense because he’s visually oriented rather than aurally. He’s also benefitted in having two exceptional cinematographers by his side: Taylor Bonin, who he’s been collaborating with since they were in second grade together, and Trevor Owsley. You can watch all these guys’ reels, shorts and camera test footage online. It always amazes me when crowdfunding film projects have no visual reference for us to go by, but I’m especially impressed by just how much is available to potential pledgers to look at here in terms of proof of concept and proof of talent. And after watching Eleven Eleven, which is relatively dialogue-oriented yet uses subtitles instead of audio speech throughout, check out the totally dialogue-free Arrowhead, which is the first short Chapman made since getting the new hearing aids – meaning he could actually collaborate with the score composer this time.

Chapman even makes his documentary shorts silent, as you can see with a video titled “Port Au Prince,” about deaf kids in Haiti. I think there is actually a more full doc short on the way about this deaf community that formed after the 2010 earthquake and that probably will have more exposition, but even then I hope it’s mostly done with subtitled sign language with the soundtrack primarily score (one of his all-time favorite films is Baraka, which is awesome, and I hope it’s also a major influence). The seems to be the intended method of doing Jester. “The film’s main language is spoken english but with a healthy dose of American Sign Language,” Chapman writes on his film’s Kickstarter page. “My best friend in the film only signs so the whole film will be subtitled in english. (Hopefully other languages too).”

That Kickstarter page has a lot of other info and links that should help you believe in Chapman, so I should just let you head over here now. At $50k, Jester’s goal is fairly high for a feature debut from an unknown. And I don’t know how much more of a push we can offer it than the front-page Los Angeles Times piece on Chapman published last week. It’s the sort of project that even in the end might be most notable for the filmmaker’s own story rather than what’s on screen, but I’m optimistic that this one will be a good combination of both.

Watch the campaign video below.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.