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Art mirrors reality in film ‘Lacrimosa’ by deaf filmmaker Austin Chapman

deaf filmmaker

“Lacrimosa” is the name of the first song Austin Chapman heard with his Phonak hearing aids, which is the last song Mozart composed.

“Lacrimosa” is also defined as “day of tears” or the final movement in a requiem.

This word, laden with meaning, is the perfect title of Chapman’s first feature film. He collaborated on the script, stars in it, and directed as well.

He describes it as “a semi-autobiographical coming of age story about two deaf friends struggling to make their first film.”

A rough cut of the film was shown at the San Antonio and Boise film festivals. The final cut was recently completed and will be submitted to major film festivals while shopping for a buyer. A college tour is also planned.

Budding filmmaker

The journey all started in second grade when Chapman started using his mom’s camcorder with his friend Taylor to make movies. Years later, he’s listed as director, producer, writer, editor, and/or actor for five films, four of which are shorts. It might be surprising to know that he’s only taken one acting class in his life (in high school) and taught himself everything about editing and cinematography. His major at Pepperdine was writing with a minor in film studies, which helped him develop his writing while learning about film history.

When asked what it was like to direct and star in his own movie, Chapman describes it as feeling surreal. It was the most rewarding and the most exhausting experience he’s had.

“It felt like making sand art, having to color each grain and put them in the bottle at the exact right place to make a cohesive image,” he says.

“It felt like making sand art, having to color each grain and put them in the bottle at the exact right place to make a cohesive image.”

Making ‘Lacrimosa’

Chapman worked on the story in his head for several years before writing the first page. He finished the first draft in a few months and then spent the rest of the year polishing the script and trying to secure funding.

After a failed Kickstarter campaign, it seemed the dream of making a feature film wouldn’t be realized. Then a group of private investors saw the Kickstarter and loved Chapman’s vision. They gave them the funding for the film along with full creative control, which Chapman says was a godsend, especially for his first feature.

Because the movie is semi-autobiographical, a natural question is which parts of the movie are fictional? Chapman says this is tricky to answer because even the highly fictionalized parts happened to him, his co-writers, or close friends of theirs.

“So the film could be considered a pure work of fiction, but the fascinating thing is that it works as a documentary in a very loose sense,” Chapman says. “Art is the lie trying to show truth; we took our art closer to the truth than most works of fiction.”

“Art is the lie trying to show truth; we took our art closer to the truth than most works of fiction.”

The main characters in the movie are Justin, played by Chapman, and Gaston, played by deaf actor Michael Spady; both Justin and Gaston are deaf. Chapman says Justin is an amalgamation of all his best friends, including Taylor. While Chapman grew up making films with Taylor – who isn’t deaf – Chapman’s personality is closer to Gaston’s while Taylor’s is closer to Justin.

“We set out to blur the lines between fiction and reality, and we did,” says Chapman.

Pre-production only took a few months, Chapman says, because they were “young fools.” The film was shot over a spread out schedule to allow for his hair to grow in to show the passage of time. Overall, the production took over a year. Post-production took a few more years because Chapman was freelancing with little free time to edit the movie.

Filming wasn’t without its challenges. There were many logistical nightmares because they worked on a shoestring budget. It was difficult to get away with many of the sequences, especially when traveling through several states. One day they lost 10 percent of their budget from being unprepared for the chaos of life. After that day, they almost canned production, but they vowed to do better and somehow got the film done on a budget. The experience was something Chapman will never forget. Every shooting day is still vivid in his mind, including the highs and lows. He says he wouldn’t change a thing.

The film’s message is about living life to the fullest.

“The film’s message is about living life to the fullest.”

Chapman lost one of his best friends and has come close to death on numerous occasions, so this was important for him to convey. The most common reaction from audiences has been how the film has made them laugh and cry, which Chapman considers a huge compliment because that was the goal.

Being a deaf filmmaker

Obviously, the main challenge as a deaf filmmaker is communication. Chapman uses speech and American Sign Language to communicate and wears Phonak hearing aids. But there are advantages to being a deaf filmmaker too. Chapman says deaf filmmakers have a stronger grasp on visual language.

When asked what advice he has for deaf people who might be interested in acting or directing, Chapman says, “Only do it if you’re really prepared to sacrifice all of your free time, and are prepared to be put in the most stressful situations imaginable and somehow keep your cool.”

His advice is the same for hearing people but says it’s harder for people with hearing loss.

Chapman hopes there will be more future opportunities, but Hollywood has never been a role model for diversity.

Read more: #DeafTalent: Q&A with Deaf filmmaker, Jules Dameron

“We need more deaf filmmakers creating content because most of the deaf roles are written by hearing people,” he says.

“We need more deaf filmmakers creating content because most of the deaf roles are written by hearing people.”

The Black community set a great example by making their own films during the early 70s, Chapman says. Tired of being portrayed as the bad guys, they created the Blaxploitation movement, finally showing the Black man as the hero.

“Now the deaf community is making films that don’t make deaf people heroes in spite of being deaf, but because they are heroes,” says Chapman.

Learn more about Austin Chapman and his films on his website!

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Lisa A. Goldstein has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley, a digital hearing aid, a cochlear implant, and plenty of deaf-friendly communication equipment. She spends her days juggling life as a freelance journalist, wife, and mother of two in Pittsburgh, PA.
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Lisa A. Goldstein has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley, a digital hearing aid, a cochlear implant, and plenty of deaf-friendly communication equipment. She spends her days juggling life as a freelance journalist, wife, and mother of two in Pittsburgh, PA.