Award Winner Interview: Chris Overton

Chris Overton is the first ever winner of our Deaf Shorts Showcase Award with The Silent Child. Introduced for 2017, the award is for films where the representation of Deafness is not the main form of conflict but part of a wider narrative. Overton as a hearing filmmaker discusses with Encounters' Isabella Coombes the importance of acknowledging Deaf audiences in the UK, his love for the Deaf community in general, and trying his best at BSL!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and congratulations on your 2017 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?

It feels awesome, completely unexpected too which has made the whole thing a lot more exciting! It was a great festival and we were just glad to be a part of it.

Libby (the ‘silent child’ of the title) is a complex, intriguing and intelligent individual, what inspired this character and the story your film tells?

She represents a lot – we intended her character to be a voice of the Deaf community, as many of the people who make up that community would have been born into hearing families and experienced life as a ‘silent child’. It was very important both to me and the writer Rachel Shenton to cast a profoundly deaf child.

Working with young children on set has, perhaps unfairly, a reputation of being challenging. Maisie’s performance as Libby was astounding – how did you manage to gain her trust on set?

It was difficult as I don’t sign, so I really worked hard to gain her trust. I learnt basic BSL with [lead actress] Rachel as my guide as she is fluent. Maisie took to Rachel almost instantly, I had to spend a little longer before she really trusted me! I spent a lot of time hanging out with Maisie off set to get to know her. Culturally, BSL is something that is not as widely recognised as we might think and I think it opened my eyes to the Deaf community.

Tell us a bit about the casting process?

We initially put out a call for any children with hearing difficulties and had a lot of interest. When we finally found Maisie, who is profoundly deaf, she really stood out. Her eyes and stare were remarkably penetrative and we always describe the experience of finding Maisie as finding gold.

The Encounters screening was made up of a predominantly deaf audience – what kinds of feedback did you receive from them?

We gained a lot of feedback from both deaf and hearing audiences. A lot of deaf people can relate to the story, and their opinions matter. We always feel that we have done our job if a deaf audience member finds us to tell us that they enjoyed the film.

How important do you think it is for you as a director to sit in on your film’s screening with an audience?

Every time you watch a screening it’s different because of the audience. We watched it in the US for instance, and that was a completely different experience to watching it with a UK audience. Having said that though, patterns do tend to emerge – the energy in certain places heightens with emotion – laughter and welling up in the same place.

Do you think that your career as an actor informs the decisions you make as a director?

Absolutely, working with other directors in front of the camera definitely helped. You have an empathy with the actors whilst they are on your set, and understand what is required to get their best performances.

Was this the first time you have worked with deaf actors prior to making The Silent Child?

Yes, this was the first time. The whole experience just made me fall in love with Deafness and the Deaf community as a whole.

Lastly, what’s next for you Chris – can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

Our focus now is to develop The Silent Child into a feature. Rachel is currently developing the script and we are channelling all our energy into raising the funds to make it happen!

You can watch the official trailer for The Silent Child by Chris Overton below.