It was a fantastic night for BSLBT at the Deaffest 2013 Film Gala awards with its films winning awards in five categories, including best British film and best documentary.

The first category of the night was best director which Ted Evans won for his critically acclaimed The End. Ted, who directed this film with the Zoom Focus scheme, thanked BSLBT and producers Neath Films among others in a heartfelt acceptance speech.

Bim Ajadi’s Champion of the World, also produced by Neath Films, won the best British film category. Rebecca Zeljic, who was nominated for best actress and is competing in this summer's Deaflympics, picked up Bim’s award on his behalf. Presenting the best British film gong, Paddy Ladd commended BSLBT for acting as a lighthouse at a time when sign language is threatened.

Who Cares?, Mutt & Jeff's first documentary, a sensitive look at how state care is failing elderly Deaf people directed by Camilla Arnold was named best documentary. Accepting her award, Camilla said she was doing so on behalf of the team behind the film and spoke about the urgency of addressing the plight of elderly deaf people. The programme is now on our BSL Zone player. It can be viewed on TV later this week. John Hay, who presented Camilla with her award, spoke about the importance of documentaries in showing the deaf perspective of current and social affairs.  

The best actor gong, presented by guest Kaleen Feeney, an actress from Switched at Birth, went to Hal Draper who died last December for his role in Still Here, made by Mutt & Jeff. His partner and daughter made a speech which had the audience in tears and this was followed by a tribute to the stage comedian turned actor on screen. Aliya Gulamani was named best actress for her role in September 11, thanking director Raabia Hussain, who made the film as part of the Zoom scheme.

Australian film Here in Silence won best foreign film and Medina Sumovic who runs a deaf drama group in Melbourne collected the award on behalf of director Jake Willis.  

Throughout the awards there was entertainment in the form of stand-up comedian Gavin Lilley, known to many as a presenter on The Hub, and one of Deafinitely’s 4Plays, Buddha Knows which was written by Aliya.

Meanwhile earlier that day Rachel Shenton, an actress from Hollyoaks, presented Young Deaffest winner William Horsefield with his gong. His film I won’t do that again which makes use of special effects marks the young filmmaker out as one to watch.

Deaffest isn’t just about films: this year’s festival celebrated the 10th anniversary of the company behind it Zebra Uno, set up by Marilyn Willrich and Nikki Stratton and paid tribute to Richard Griffiths who died last March. He had become patron of Deaffest in February 2012. Deaffest was lucky enough to meet him last summer and showed a video of a wonderful interview in which the actor whose parents were deaf had an interpreter but barely needed it as his rusty BSL clearly returned to him during its course. He finished it by encouraging deaf actors and filmmakers to never give up because “if you do, the world will be denied what you can do”.

It was then time for Ted Evans’ The Retreat, a dark film set in the post-apocalyptic world. You can read a review of it on Limping Chicken. A behind-the-scenes film by Thomas Giddens followed which included interviews with Ted and some of the cast – a great addition to The Retreat itself. 

Kaleen Feeley held a workshop for aspiring scriptwriters and BSLBT did a presentation in the auditorium in the afternoon at which we talked about the BSL Zone and held a feedback session which will prove very useful as we strive to improve our website.

New to the Deaffest this year was a filmmakers discussion in which Deaffest coordinator Simon Herdman asked eight filmmakers questions ranging from whether clarity or creativity is best when filming sign language to whether deaf actors should always be used to play deaf characters in films. The audience also had a chance to pose challenging questions.

After the awards on Saturday night the first Visual Vernacular competition in the UK was held out in the courtyard, lasting into the small hours. Still relatively new in this country, Visual Vernacular is telling a story using your hands and body but without any BSL signs or fingerspelling. Adam Bassett came out as the winner in a tightly fought competition.

A big well done to Zebra Uno Ltd, Simon Herdman and the Deaffest team for putting on a wonderful weekend. The bar has been set even higher for 2014!

Thanks to photographer Amanda Jane Richards for giving us a selection of her photographs from the weekend which can be seen to the right of this article.

Deaffest 2013 winners

Best Actor - Hal Draper (Still Here)

Best Actress - Aliya Gulamani (September 11)

Best Director - Ted Evans (The End)

Best Documentary - Who Cares? 

Best of British Film - Champion of the World

Best Foreign Film -  Here in Silence (Australia)

Best Young Deaffest - William Horsefield (I won't do that again)

Well done to all the winners!