Interview with Cathy Heffernan, producer of ‘Deaf Sisterhood’

First published in the June edition of the Hearing Times.

Cathy works for The Guardian and has a background of working in television. She is the producer of a brand-new documentary for the BSLBT, called Deaf Sisterhood, about Aran, a deaf woman considering converting to Islam.

What is your background in television?

I worked as a researcher on Hands On – Ireland’s version of the BBC’s deaf television programme See Hear – a few years ago, after a short stint with Mentorn TV Productions. I absolutely loved it, but then a traineeship at the Guardian came along and I couldn’t pass it up, so my career took a different path! I’ve always wanted to get back into TV in one way or another.

What is the aim of Deaf Sisterhood?

In a nutshell – to provide a glimpse into a community so misrepresented by society and the media. On a broader level we wanted to look at Islam and some of its practices, and look at a deaf woman’s reasons for joining a religion that has been so stigmatised in recent years.

How did you come up with the idea for the film?

As debate over wearing the burqa and the niqab raged over the last few years, I always wondered about the impact of a face veil on deaf women. So I went to a talk at a mosque expecting to meet several women who covered their faces – only to find that a tiny minority of women wear niqabs. No-one knew of any deaf women who wore one! I realised that far from being submissive women forced to wear veils, they were empowered women who chose to wear them. That in itself interested me as there are so many stereotypes about Muslim women that simply seeing what they are really like was enlightening.

How did you find Aran, the focus of the film?

We had a story and were all set to go with it when one of the contributors’ circumstances changed so we couldn’t do the documentary we had planned. So we were in despair trying to find another story. We went up to an Eid party in Birmingham to film some other potential contributors and that was where I met Aran. She was very interested in Islam and was toying with the idea of converting and that seemed the perfect way to look at the Islamic community – through the eyes of an outsider learning about the religion and culture.

What were the people you met during the making of the film like?

Really likeable! Aran is really warm and was very generous with her time. And I found people in the Muslim community very intelligent and enquiring. While I tried to remain neutral, from time to time I couldn’t help myself and asked them about their beliefs and practices – but rather than take offence, they were always up for a good old debate! I think the documentary does show a community of people for whom Islam is a peaceful religion and a way of life, rather than the way it’s often portrayed in the media.

You worked closely with Bim Adaji, the director of the film, and Ted Evans, who filmed it, who are both also deaf. How did you all work as a team?

As this was my first one-off TV programme, I had a lot to learn! I thought the mixture of deaf and hearing crew worked really well on this programme and we all had different strengths: Bim with his directing and editing, Ted with his filming skills, and Karen Gilchrist from Redbird Media (the production company behind the film) coming from a documentary production background. Then there was me with my journalism. We gelled really well!

Are you hoping to make more documentaries in the future?

Oh yes – the world’s full of fascinating people and topics just waiting to be turned into TV. Once the time and the funding’s there!

To see Deaf Sisterhood in full, go to http://www.bslbt.co.uk/programmes/deaf-sisterhood/

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