Deaf Jam

Aneta Brodski discovers the power of American Sign Language poetry. She prepares to be one of the first deaf poets in a spoken-word slam.

Film Signature Image
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
November 3, 2011
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call

Judy Lieff

Judy Lieff is a filmmaker and teacher. Following her career as a professional dancer, she earned an MFA in dance and experimental film/video from the California Institute of the Arts. Judy has produced, directed, and edited many short dance films that have garnered numerous awards and screened internationally. She began her relationship with the deaf Show more community through the making of an award winning experimental film, Duties of My Heart, featuring Terrylene Sacchett, poet mentor for DeAf Jam. The film became a catalyst for four consecutive grants to teach video production workshops that Judy designed for deaf teens. In order to create a forum for her deaf students to dialogue with other hearing teens creating videos, she initiated and co-curated with the Museum of Radio and Television in Los Angeles, An Evening of Videos by Los Angeles Teens. Judy is a six-time grant recipient for dance/media projects and has over eight years of experience working in the film industry in both production and post-production on commercials, industrials, shorts, and electronic press kits for feature films. In 2000, Judy received a National Dance/Media fellowship from the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2004 and 2007 she was awarded New York State Council on the Arts independent film grants for Deaf Jam. Show less


Steve Zeitlin

Steve Zeitlin served as co-producer of From Mambo to Hip Hop, a documentary about the South Bronx funded by ITVS, and broadcast on public television across the U.S. as part of the Voces series of Latino Public Broadcasting. He received his Ph.D in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania, and is the director and cofounder of City Lore, an organization Show more dedicated to the preservation of New York City’s — and America’s — living cultural heritage. He also co-directs the People’s Poetry Gathering, a national poetry festival in New York City. Steve Zeitlin has served as a regular commentator for the nationally syndicated radio shows, Crossroads and Artbeat, and The Next Big Thing, heard on public radio stations across the U.S. His commentaries have appeared on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Newsday. He also co-produced (with NPR producer Dave Isay) the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition, and serves as an advisor to the StoryCorps project. Prior to arriving in New York, Steve Zeitlin served for eight years as a folklorist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and is coauthor of a number of award winning books on America’s folk culture. He has also co-produced a number of award-winning film documentaries including How I Got Over; The Grand Generation and Free Show Tonite on the traveling medicine shows of the 1920s and 1930s. His early documentaries were selected by for streaming online. Show less

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The Film

Filmmaker Judy Lieff chronicles a journey of self-realization for deaf teen Aneta Brodski, as she reveals her passions, frustrations, and sense of humor through her exploration of American Sign Language poetry. Unique among her deaf high school friends, Aneta longs to fully participate in the hearing world. Her artistry evolves within her ASL poetry group, and eventually she decides to compete in a spoken word poetry slam.

With ties to rap and hip hop culture, the U.S. National Poetry Slams for youth are widespread, but Aneta is among the first deaf teens to brave that highly verbal arena. The film captures her experiences as she conveys her inner self to hearing audiences.

In a remarkable twist of fate, Aneta, a deaf Israeli, meets and then collaborates with Tahani — a hearing Palestinian slam poet. They create a hearing/deaf duet touching on their shared personal and cultural experiences — generating a new form of slam poetry that speaks to both the hearing and the deaf.

Deaf Jam utilizes innovative techniques to convey the beauty of sign language poetry to hearing audiences. It is a three dimensional language that exists, like dance, in space. In the hands of a talented poet, shapes in relation to one another create the visually stunning equivalents of rhythm and rhyme.Deaf Jam is a celebration of the beauty and power of American Sign Language poetry, a unique and endangered art form.