Mga Natatanging Tula ni Rizal sa Wikang Senyas is just a working title of the first ever translation of Jose Rizal's poetry in sign language!
It is a film on the translation/interpretation of five of Rizal’s poems in Filipino Sign Language [FSL]. This serves as a tribute – not only to Rizal's sesquicentennial birth anniversary but to the 100 years of Lasallian presence in the Philippines and the 20 years of Lasallian Deaf Education -- by Mirana Medina, an award-winning independent advocacy filmmaker. She studied FSL for a year in preparation for the making of Silent Odyssey, her documentary film after her highly successful Alyana. When she worked with the Deaf for the film on some of the scenes, she discovered that FSL being a visual language could not be literally translated. Besides, the poetic rendition is more beautiful and expressive. This was what I wanted to achieve. With this in mind, she asked us to help the FSL Deaf Consultants understand the deeper meaning of the poems. She wanted the performers to come up with poetic, not literal interpretation of the poems. We explained painstakingly to them the nuances of the poems line-by-line. Raphy Domingo, the former Philippine Federation of the Deaf president, interpreted each stanza based on his conceptual understanding in a manner beautifully expressed in deaf signs. The sessions with us were recorded in video.
She then immediately convert them and send to Raphy for study and memorization. It did not end there though. With Dr. Marie Therese Bustos of the University of the Philippines Special Education Area, an FSL authority, the Deaf consultants refined the signs even more and we wanted to come up with the official FSL translation of Rizal’s poems. Only then were the poems taught to the Deaf actors.
“Aside from Raphy and Dr. Bustos,” she recalls, “present were Myra Medrana, Dennis Balan, Giselle Montero of De La Salle -College of St. Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies and me. Myra and Dennis were the founders of Teatro Silencio, the first Deaf theater group in the Philippines. It has now evolved to become Dulaang Tahimik Philippines. It is headed by husband and wife team, Dennis and Jennifer Balan. Meanwhile Myra handles Silent Steps, SDEAS student’s playgroup.”
Though the film was intended mainly for the deaf, she will be having options to do it in three spoken languages: English, Filipino, and Spanish. This is to serve the interests and accessibility needs of the blind, regular students of Rizal Course, or of anyone interested on Rizal’s works. And for more Good Samaritans to give them P200,000!
This Rizal project will be fully implemented in November. But she targeted and managed to finish Mi Ultimo Adios in time for Rizal’s birthday last 19 June. Nearly 15 minutes long, it was launched as the first in a series of five poems to be interpreted in FSL by DLS-CSB SDEAS. The screening was held DLS-CSB School of Design Cinema last 21 June. And as a bonus, it was introduced last Friday during the poignant closing ceremonies of the Rizal International Conference at the UP Asian Center's GT Toyota Auditorium where Deaf actor Aldrin Gabriel did great in immortalizing Rizal!
Vim Nadera: What lessons did you learn from making Mga Natatanging Tula ni Rizal sa Wikang Senyas?
Mirana Medina: It was a long process, that's why it is a work in progress. Before that, we held an audition to search for Deaf performers. We asked each one of them to interpret a stanza from the poem we considered appropriate to a particular person. Nearly 25 talented Deaf came over. I recorded the audition for study and “votation” during a deliberation held to choose the best person to interpret the poems. And I have learned that miscommunication really leads to a fiasco. That’s of course an exaggeration. But we spent great amount of time and energy taking a lot of shots for a particular stanza only to find out later that we were shooting the wrong scene. To explain: my mind was telling me that in front of Fort Santiago gate, we should be doing Stanza 8. But all the Deaf and the hearing interpreters told me that I instructed the actor, using sign language, to do Stanza # 9. So, we shot Stanza 9 instead of Stanza 8. I got confused because signs for # 8 and 9 appeared similar to me. Realizing my mistake, I apologized and we proceeded to correct it. But I had to forego the scene with the members of Silent Steps because there was no time anymore for the rehearsal. I also had a shot that I envisioned to be there but was not recorded—again, because of confusion. I earlier made a deal with Dennis, our Deaf cameraman, that I should always tap his shoulders each time we take a shot. Well, I must have tapped his ears because he wasn’t able to shoot what I wanted despite the many takes that we took. I only came to find that out when I was already assembling the footage to edit.
VN: What did you personally learn from Rizal?
MM: From Rizal, I have learned above anything else—the love for our country and our history, as well as the importance of education to Filipinos.
VN: From the Deaf who helped you before, during and after the shoot?
MM: Mga Natatanging Tula… is my third film with the Deaf so I am well aware long before making this project that DEAF CAN! The knowledge that they can do what any hearing person can do except hear, and that they can perform better than some of us so-called “abled individuals” did not take me long to realize. Sign language if we come to learn it enough to be able to communicate with the Deaf, especially so, if we mingle and interact with them just like anybody else, will change any wrong thoughts or attitudes, if one is harboring it, that we have about them; we will come to learn and realize that they are not different. They should not be considered as “others.” In fact, anyone, whether he has disability or not, should be treated with respect and equality.
Communication is the only barrier or hindrance between the hearing and the Deaf. The Filipino Sign Language should therefore be recognized by our government. It is our bridge to reach out to them. To answer Deaf person’s information accessibility needs, large TV networks should provide interpreters, at the very least, on their daily news programs. They should pass House Bill No. 4121 to be able to implement the “Sign-language for News Programs Act of 2011” and House Bill No. 4631 to implement Court Interpreters for Person with Disabilities Act. Right now, a Signature Campaign is ongoing to gather 300,000 signatures in support of those bills. Moreover, it is lamentable to know that only about 30-35% of the Philippine Accessibility Law (BP344) has been implemented. It is nearly 30 years from the time it was enacted in 1983. The rights of Persons with Disabilities should be respected. Above all, the Deaf should be seen as members of a cultural, linguistic-minority group; not hearing-impaired, which is a medical viewpoint. Deaf people have their own uniqueness and potentials. Having their own sign language is one of their distinctions. Being thrice a thesis defense panel member to Deaf graduating students, I have met highly capable and promising Deaf artists. Working again with some of them in this project, for me, is a privilege indeed.