Slamdance 2023: Sign the Show

Directed by: Cat Brewer 
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Maria Athayde 


“Sign the Show” is your typical talking heads documentary about the struggles deaf people face when trying to attend live events. The scene is set with a title card that asks us to “imagine not having access to a movie or play you want to see comedy you want to laugh at or music or music you want to hear”. From there, the documentary sheds light on the fact that many entertainment venues do not provide adequate accessibility and interpreting services for deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) individuals even though the provision of “reasonable accommodations” are required under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This documentary shatters the misconception that deaf and HOH people don’t like live entertainment. Instead, it tries to show the audience how deaf and HOH audiences feel and experience live entertainment in a different way. 

The documentary features interviews with artists like Kelly Clarkson, Waka Flocka Flame, and André 3000 among others, American Sign Language interpreters, and first-person accounts of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals spliced with archival footage from concerts and shows. Artists, interpreters, and individuals share their personal experiences of attending live entertainment, concerts in particular, and the challenges they faced. This process highlighted how many venues do not have sign language interpreters or captioning services, which makes it impossible for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals to feel truly included and appreciate the music.

There are a few things that I wished the documentary spent more time on. First, I wanted to learn more about the challenges ASL interpreters face when preparing for a show. Second, the documentary lacked balance. It was almost as if more time was spent highlighting artists’ experiences instead of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals’ experiences attending live events. This piece would soar if more time were spent highlighting the personal experiences of those who face this lack of accessibility instead of how it makes the artists feel. Finally, in passing, the documentary mentioned Black American Sign Language and the unique set of skills needed to communicate in this language.

Overall this was a very matter-of-fact presentation. It presented an issue: lack of accessibility in live entertainment venues in the United States and interviewed multiple people on how this made them feel. Both from a technical and storytelling perspective this documentary does not offer anything new or innovative. Still, it sheds an important light on the challenges faced by deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in our society and starts to raise important questions about how we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone that enjoys live entertainment. Even with its faults, I recommend “Sign the Show” to anyone who is interested in “getting their feet wet” regarding disability rights and accessibility.

“Sign the Show” Trailer

“Sign the Show” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Slamdance Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdSerializd, Twitter, and view more of what she’s up to here.

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