Filmmaker Rob Savage was dead set on making a zombie film since he was 12-years-old, when he snuck downstairs after his parents fell asleep to watch the horror classic Night of the Living Dead. “I was pretty obsessed with [George A.] Romero’s trilogy as a teenager, but like everyone else, I got pretty worn down by all the repetitive subpar zombie films that were being churned out. I knew that if I were ever to make a zombie film, it would have to be a really striking idea.”
Enter Jed Shepherd, who pitched Rob the idea of a zombie flick where the infection, known as “The Pulse,” is spread through a piercing sound that kills whoever hears it instantly. The result of their collaboration was “Dawn of the Deaf,” a horror-drama film that intertwines the stories of six deaf characters whose lives are being changed in significant ways at the very moment the apocalypse occurs.
With a budget under $10,000, Rob and his assistant directors stretched their resources as far as they could go by taking on work experience students in exchange for the use of a school theater. They hired a zombie trainer to put their nearly 500 extras through a day of lessons on how to walk, sound, and eat like the walking dead. They also nabbed a free ride on the London Eye for an aerial view of London, where “Dawn of the Deaf” was shot in its entirety. Over one hundred festival screenings later, including a spot in the Sundance 2017 shorts lineup, “Dawn of the Deaf” may also be the first film that touches on the ultimate “deaf gain,” or what is known in Deaf culture as an advantage to being deaf.
This short film checks all of the boxes of the classic zombie movie: the buckets of blood, the sudden mass death of thousands of people, and an eerie, vast silence before the onset of a slow-moving stampede. What makes “Dawn of the Deaf” stand out from the wobbly, decaying, flesh-hungry crowd, however, is its exploration of humanity at the moment when humanity goes down the toilet. And unlike any other film of its genre, it aims to, as Rob says, “connect [British] deaf and hearing audiences in an engaging thrilling way.” [Note: To that end, the film includes dialogue in both spoken English and British Sign Language, with English subtitles.]
This piece also speaks to the common misconception that deafness is only a disability. To quote Rob: “More than anything, we wanted to present a situation where a perceived disability became a tool of survival — while the film deals with abuse and discrimination, there’s also a sense of the characters not being defined by their deafness, which was important to us. I was definitely expecting some skepticism, but found that whenever we pitched the idea to deaf collaborators, they all saw the narrative as being empowering, the fact that their deafness becomes their ultimate tool of survival.”
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