Preservation, Revitalization, and Validity of Home Movies: Deaf Folklife Films as a Case Study

Matthew Malzkuhn

Advisor: Debra Lattanzi Shutika, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Roger Lancaster, Jessica Scarlata

Enterprise Hall, #318
December 04, 2019, 11:00 AM to 01:00 PM


This research inquiry explored the workings of Home Movies of Deaf families as artifacts of representation. What did these artifacts tell us about the linguistic, cultural, and identity interests of Deaf people at the advent of amateur filmmaking (1925) to the end of the silent era (1970’s)? To further understand different interconnected parts, in depth analysis was made on the dynamic process of folklife films; films functioning as forms of media documenting the performance motives of the producers, along with the added context of viewership. The ability to glean empirical evidence from various collections required analyzing qualitative and quantitative information by focusing on the general metadata of the collections and the cultural meanings that manifested themselves through patterns found across six separate collections. This offered me the opportunity to analyze the relationship between filmmaking and performance of deaf people; on how identities were established and shared. The historical narrative on deaf was also examined when I cross analyzed different discourses and my data. 

Additionally, this project reviewed the similarities and contrasts of how Deaf and Hearing people utilize technology especially in the silent era of filmmaking. Summarily, my analysis of selected films offers researchers in Cultural Studies and Deaf Studies the untapped three-fold opportunities; to analyze sign language as text directly from the source, to understand and further dissect the themes that are consistent across collections, and finally, to discuss the aesthetic and literary qualities of such innovation. Finally, there is now an opportunity to take a closer look at whether the notion of disability plays a (if any) role in the daily lives of deaf people as shown on film. This is a significant undertaking because these films can offer counter perspectives to the historical and scholarship constructs of deaf people and their culture.