By: Danielle Rebel, Marketing & Communications Intern
Deaf culture inspires award-winning student film

Miah Detjen’s first language isn’t English.

It’s not Spanish, French, German or Arabic. Her first language is American Sign Language (ASL).

Detjen, a junior film production major and English minor, grew up with a deaf father, learning to sign before she learned to speak.

When Ray Rea, MSUM professor of film/video production, asked students to make a short personal documentary, Detjen knew exactly whom she wanted to depict.

“It’s a personal documentary film about my dad and me,” Detjen said. “To show him I appreciate him and break some stereotypes about deaf people.”

Rea encouraged Detjen to submit her seven-minute documentary, titled “Daddy,” to the South Dakota Film Festival, as well as the My Hero International Film Festival in California and the Fargo Film Festival. The film was accepted into all three festivals.

“It really stood out as a beautifully done film,” Rea said.

“Daddy” was one the select few accepted into the South Dakota Film Festival out of hundreds of entries. Submissions came from all around the world.

 Detjen attended the My Hero International Film Festival with her parents, Michael and Paula Detjen, in late November. “Daddy” placed fourth in the Overcoming Obstacles category.

Being nationally and internationally recognized is “exciting and nerve-wracking” for Detjen.

“I think all of us are amazed that this little film I made has grown into something so much bigger,” she said.

The subject of her film is close-at-heart, and Detjen knows exactly why she chose to construct the film the way she did.

“The purpose of the film is to place a hearing audience in the seat of what a deaf audience would see,” Detjen said.

Detjen’s film is almost completely silent, with scenes of father and daughter interaction, her father teaching his ASL class and Detjen signing a personal message to the audience.

 Detjen signs, “I’m stuck in two worlds. I’m hearing, but I know sign language. It’s hard trying to figure out which world I’m in.”

Later in the film, she goes on to say, “I am proud to know sign language and to have grown up in deaf culture.”

 Since her film debuted in the two festivals, Detjen’s work has spread among the deaf community like wildfire. A man from New York tweeted Detjen asking for a link to the film, while another deaf community group on Twitter is now following her.

“I’m really glad that I’ve gotten approval from the deaf community,” she said.

Other aspiring filmmakers and groups have also acknowledged Detjen’s film. Detjen was invited to join the group Women in Film, a nationwide, nonprofit dedicated to “helping women achieve their highest potential within the global entertainment, communications and media industries and to preserving the legacy of women within those industries.”

Traveling to California for the My Hero festival served a dual purpose for Detjen. The junior is attending the Los Angeles Film Studies Center this semester, and was able to check out the area while on her trip.

For now, the ambitious film student is considering creating a longer documentary out of her short film, and hopes to find an internship in California while attending school.

To see Detjen’s film, “Daddy,” visit the My Hero webpage.