Local production company Rustic Lantern Films has recently released their debut movie called "Lake Windfall," about five friends on a camping trip that turns disastrous.
The plot may sound familiar, but before you head to the theater, there's a few aspects to keep in mind: of the five main characters, three are deaf; and Rustic Lantern Films is a branch of local advocacy nonprofit DEAF Inc. The movie was written and directed by Tony Nitko, who is the marketing director of the organization. The film is not a documentary or an instructional video, but there is a definite education angle involved, he says.
“Overall my goal with the film was to increase awareness about the need of deaf and hard of hearing people in the mainstream population, as well as educating deaf culture to the mainstream population. Deaf culture and people who are hearing – it’s a two-way street, so it goes both ways.”
Nitko, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Pittsburgh, has been deaf his entire life. After graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology, he spent several years traveling around the country for work, and later moved into education as a teacher and supervisor. He always made it a point to be an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing. In those roles, he gained confidence from working in the hearing world to advocate for the needs of people in the deaf world. He hopes that after viewing the movie, people will feel more comfortable to learn sign language and to embrace the deaf culture around them.
“It’s not a stigma. It’s not something to be ashamed of or think that it’s weird," he says. "Sometimes there’s a fear of the unknown and a resistance. You think 'Oh, I don’t know sign language is kind of weird,' and you kind of make your mind up about it. It’s almost like deaf people are always having to accommodate hearing people in the mainstream populace, and I would love to see greater efforts by the general population to make an effort to learn sign language and to communicate with deaf people. It’s a beautiful language. I love sign language and I’m so glad I learned sign language and I’d love to share that and my passion for it with the general population. ”
The film has recently completed a tour through D.C., Florida, St. Louis and Los Angeles, and is now focusing on national distribution. St. Louis will have an opportunity to see the film again on April 25 at UMSL.