NYWIFT at the 55th New York Film Festival Talks: Making Your Film Accessible to All Audiences

co-presents with the 55th New York Film Festival the panel Access New Audiences: Wonderstruck & The Blind Boys of Alabama.

Join us for an impactful discussion on how filmmakers and distributors can increase their audience outreach and box office draw by incorporating accessible language components for both Deaf and Blind communities. Participating are Deaf talent featured in the NYFF Centerpiece Selection Wonderstruck (Dir. Todd Haynes) and Leslie McCleave, producer/director of How Sweet the Sound – The Blind Boys of Alabama who will screen clips of her documentary.

Panelists will provide new perspectives on budget production, grant opportunities, and ideal circumstances for your film to be experienced by new audiences. Discussion will also cover how American Sign Language (ASL), Audio Description (AD) and Open/Closed Captioning (OC/CC) are resources and assets for your film to be inclusive.

Michele Spitz of Woman of Her Word is a professional voiceover artist, philanthropist and lifelong patron of the arts. She is most passionate about her audio description narration work, having voiced 50 film projects for the visually impaired, including commercially released films such as The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, and the documentary feature, How Sweet the Sound – The Blind Boys of Alabama. Spitz also audio described The Great Muppet Caper for Disney TV. Since 2014, she has annually sponsored and voiced the audio description for select films for Superfest: SF International Film Festival, as well as for ReelAbilities: NY Disability Film Festival since 2015. As a member of New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT), she has served on the annual disability film panel since 2015, and was the original grant provider for audio description and closed captioning for the films selected. She also initiated and sponsored the first British Academy of Film and Television Arts ( BAFTA) Media Studies Scholarship for a graduate film student with a disability, now in it’s second year. Her body of work can be found on IMDb, and the films of which she has audio described can be accessed on Amazon, Netflix, ITunes, among other distribution platforms. Spitz’ endeavors are ongoing in the pursuit and advocacy for audience inclusion.

Jo-Ann Dean is CEO of SIGNmation and is a producer of new media, open caption screenings and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted panels within film festivals and the entertainment industry. SIGNmation produced accessible screenings with Deaf talent for Sony Pictures’ Baby Driver and Grandma. Dean is the Marketing Director of Maleni Chaitoo’s Don’t Shoot the Messenger!, an ASL comedy webseries. She is an NEA grant recipient for Boundaries BashFest ’16, which is also federally funded. She also built an ASL digital media studio for Deaf youth. Additionally, Dean is a Media Partner of Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0, a consultant on PBS/American Film Showcase Documentary Deaf Jam and a proud producer of ASL Cabaret based in Hollywood. www.signmation.com

Cliff Hahn is an audio producer/director, sound designer, rerecording mixer, and binaural (3-D headphone) recording specialist. Hahn works with Bridge Multimedia, one of the leading providers of audio description programming, and records, directs, edits, mixes and masters audio description for broadcast and cable network series, e.g., Hidden Heroes(CBS), Sea Rescue (ABC), Peter Rabbit (Nick Jr.), and Voyager(NBC). He also co-produces audio description for feature length films with Woman of Her Word®, e.g., Dealt, Swim Team, and Sanctuary. In addition to Hahn’s description work, recently he was recordist/mixer of the binaural installation, Lunch Counter (National Center for Civil and Human Rights); audio post-production supervisor for the documentary, Saving the Great Swamp (PBS); sound designer for Jubilee/Mein Kampf (Theatre of the New City); and sound designer and rerecording mixer of Blind Faith (Isabel Hill Productions). Hahn’s earlier work at WGBH-FM as a producer of spoken word radio programs earned him Armstrong, Ohio State and American Library Association awards, as well as a Peabody nomination.

Leslie McCleave produced and directed the feature documentary, How Sweet the Sound – The Blind Boys of Alabama, the first film about this legendary gospel group. How Sweet the Sound premiered at the Nashville Film Festival and has screened across the U.S. including stops at the Margaret Mead Film Festival and as closing night film at the ReelAbilities NY Disabilities Film Festival. Other work includes the supernatural, environmental-awareness feature Road, (Outstanding Performance Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival and acquired by Showtime, iTunes and Snag Films). Her shorts have won top awards at Sundance, SXSW, Locarno, and San Francisco International Film Festivals. She created the 9/11 documentary installation cedarliberty (with Elena del Rivero), presented at International Center of Photography and the NY State Museum. Her work has received support from Creative Capital, NEA, NYFA, NYSCA, IFP Radziwill Documentary Fund and the Irish Film Board. McCleave recently joined the faculty at Emerson College.

John McGinty: Featured Actor in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, the Centerpiece Selection at NYFF and Palme D’Or nominated at Cannes. Writer/Actor of Don’t Shoot the Messenger! The ASL comedy web series was awarded 2016 Loreen Arbus Grant & Woman of Her Word (Michele Spitz) Audio Description Grant. Broadway bound Director Kenny Leon cast him in Children of a Lesser God (Berkshires). NY: Fêtes De La Nuit (New Ohio Theatre), Veritas (The Representatives), The Healing(TBTB/Theater Row). Regional: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Sacramento Music Circus, LaMirada Theatre), Tribes (Guthrie, Steppenwolf, Everyman). Web series: High Maintenance (Vimeo and HBO). Upcoming: Levity. @TheJohnMcGinty

Anthony Natale (Wonderstruck) is a renowned Deaf Actor & distinguished American Sign Language (ASL) Master for the Emmy Nominated Switched at Birth, the 2016 Tony Award Winning Spring Awakening and cast of the Oscar Award Winning Mr. Holland’s Opus, Jerry McGuire and Children of a Lesser God. He is a featured actor in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck, the Centerpiece Selection at NYFF and Palme D’Or nominated film at Cannes. Natale memorialized the line “You complete me” as a Deaf man signing in Jerry Maguire’s pivotal elevator scene. Other credits include: ASL Master/Set Consultant for Music/Dance: Michael Jackson’s London Tour; HBO’s 2017 Season Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Lauren Ridloff is currently in preview for her Broadway debut alongside Actor Joshua Jackson (The Affair, Dawson’s Creek) in the Academy Award-nominated role of Sarah Norman, in the Tony Award winning show Children of A Lesser God. Ridloff is also featured in the Palme D’Or nominated film Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes. She co-directed Sign Me Alice for New York Deaf Theatre and Directed the first Deaf rendition of The Vagina Monologues in New York City. Ridloff is the Assistant Director of Camp Mark Seven Deaf Film Camp for Deaf Youth in the New York Adirondacks.

Captioning and ASL interpretation will be provided.


Special Thanks to Eugene Hernandez, Brian Brooks
and the Film Society of Lincoln Center.


This program will be ASL interpreted.

October 13 @ 8:00pm
8:00 pm — 9:00 pm (1h)

144 West 65th Street,

Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Ampitheater
144 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

Free and Open to the Public

Join the conversation on social media:
#nywift | @nywift

NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are supported, in part, by grants from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.