On Thursday, January 16th, the short film Feeling Through, by Doug Roland, hosted a live accessible Q&A with Roland, the stars of the film, the CEO of Hellen Keller Services, and the executive producers, via YouTube.
Feeling Through follows 18-year-old Tereek, a struggling teen wandering the streets of New York City, as he assists a DeafBlind man named Artie, that he meets on a street corner, find his way to the bus stop. Tereek waits with Artie at the bus stop to make sure he gets home safely. By the end of their time together, Artie and Tereek form a deep connection that inspires Tereek and changes him forever.
Feeling Through stars the first DeafBlind actor in a leading role, Robert Tarango, alongside rising actor Steven Prescod. The film was inspired by a real-life experience the filmmaker had with a DeafBlind person one night in New York City. This short film has played at many international film festivals and has won thirteen awards so far, including The Audience Award at Naples International Film Festival and The Audience Awards at the San Diego International Film Festival.
The Q&A began with the filmmaker Doug Roland talking about what inspired the film. Roland said “This has been in many ways a ten-year journey in the making…I was coming home late one night, when I was still living in New York City and I saw a man standing on the street corner holding a sign that said ‘I’m deaf and blind I need help crossing the street.’” During that meeting, Roland ended up having a whole conversation with the man and went from seeing him as a stranger to a friend. “It was an interaction that really stuck with me and moved me on a number of different levels. Like a lot of writers, I immediately got to it and started writing that story. But it lived on my computer for a number of years because just didn’t feel like I was ready to do it in the right way,” said Douglas. It wasn’t until three years ago, that he reached out to the Hellen Keller National Center with his idea for a short film about his experience. He came into contact with Sue Ruzenski, the executive director of the center, and began the process of making this film.
Next, Roland asks Robert Tarango what it feels like to be a movie star. Tarango replied “I still can’t believe that I’m the first time DeafBlind actor and a movie star. It’s just so inspirational and to really be able to see myself on screen is just amazing. I’ll never forget that experience of watching myself for the first time.” Tarango also added that he felt a bit awkward watching himself on screen but that it was worth it. “I can’t emphasize how inspiring it is to really be able to show the world that DeafBlind can. And how good that makes me feel and the impact that it’ll have on the future and I’m hoping that I can make more movies in the future” he said.
Later in the Q&A, Steven Prescod talks about elements of his own life that have helped prepare him for his role as Tereek. Prescod said “What sparked me to want to be an actor started when I was fourteen. There was a director that wanted the kids to audition for an independent film and that was the first project that I did that gave me my acting spark. From there I tried to get into schools but it was very difficult to stay in because of the funds—that my mom had trouble keeping up with. So I lost ambition and found myself incarcerated at the age of sixteen because I was hanging around with kids that were bored. We didn’t have any phones or iPads or anything to keep us occupied. But thankfully I was given a second chance.” The judge on his case sentenced him to do a six months program where he did a paid internship for a not-for-profit business that had a performing arts program, which ended up helping Prescod to turn his life around.
Next, Roland asks Sue Ruzenski to talk more about the Hellen Keller Services. The Hellen Keller National Center was integral to helping to create Feeling Through and provides a great deal of services for the DeafBlind community. Ruzenski said, “Hellen Keller Services is an organization that provides an array of services and programs. They’re rooted deep in Brooklyn and they’ve been there for 127 years but one division of Hellen Keller Services is the Hellen Keller National Center. That is a program that is really the only kind that exists in the country… We have a residential vocational training program that is located on Long Island. People come from around the country to gain skills to be independent and to succeed with employment… with the ultimate goal for them to have the best life they could have.”
Roland then asks Marlee Matlin, a famous deaf actor who executive produced Feeling Through, to talk about her experience as a deaf actor. She begins by sharing that it’s been difficult to work as a deaf actress and that she has to be proactive in finding roles for herself. Matlin even shared a recent experience she had with a director who offered her a chance to play a deaf judge who later revoked that offer when he realized she would need an interpreter. “That happened within the last year so I think everybody like Doug did, has to do their homework. Has to understand how to work with an actor. How to portray them authentically. How to be able to create a character on the screen that tells a good story, whether you are talking about film or television” she said. Marlee also added that bringing interpreters on set should not be seen as such a big deal but rather another level that is added to a film to tell a better story. She said “The deaf community and the acting community has work to do. And the work is that we can provide the opportunity to educate. We cant get angry if you guys don’t know this kind of stuff. We just have to sit down and communicate and educate and talk. That’s basically what it is at the end of the day.”
To close the Q&A Roland answered a few of the remaining audience questions about the film. One audience member asked Roland to talk more about the Feeling Through Live series on the film’s youtube channel. He said that Feeling Through has become so much more than just a film. It has turned into a community where people are able to communicate with one another, share their collective experience, and learn from each other. “Ultimately we realized there is this need to try to find a way to use technology to keep people connected. So I created Feeling Through Live, which is a weekly live stream, that again continuing the beautiful partnership with Hellen Keller Services, is a weekly accessible live stream with captions and interpreter that is meant to provide a platform for people that are deaf, blind, and beyond. So we talk to all different people in the disability community about topics relevant to everyone” he said.
Feeling Through can be seen online at the Slamdance film festival in February.