Enable at the BAFTAs: Director Bim Ajadi talks connecting D/deaf and hearing communities through film

An accomplished and award-winning director, Bim Ajadi has paved the way for D/deaf and hearing actors to connect. Now, Bim is being recognised for his film Here/Not Here by BAFTA Breakthrough.

Bim Ajadi Credit: BAFTA

Boasting over 15 years of experience, Bim – who is profoundly Deaf – has a wealth of experience under his belt. From working on television documentaries, dramatic shorts to music videos – not to mention co-directing a film for the Channel 4 opening London Paralympic Ceremony – Bim’s star has been rising.

With a new spotlight on Bim’s work thanks to BAFTA, Bim speaks to Enable about his film Here/Not Here, a thought provoking short, led by disabled artists, combining dance, hip-hop, football and British Sign Language (BSL) together. 

A film unlike any other, Bim is set to change the landscape for D/deaf and hearing performers.

How does it feel to know your work is being recognised by BAFTA?

I couldn’t believe it initially as it was so unexpected. I’m not the type of person who goes around winning things, but, of course, you do hope that happens – as I say, it is an amazing opportunity to learn that I am part of this shortlist.

It was quite mind-blowing to think that judges such as Fiona Shaw and Paapa Essiedu were looking at my work, and to think about the fact that this recognition has come my way. 

I’m self-taught so in that sense you think about how this will impact the type of recognition that you will get, but it is amazing and a great opportunity. 

How do you ensure you nurture D/deaf talent and showcase the realities of the D/deaf community in your works?

In terms of directing I do always bring in D/deaf actors and it is giving them that chance and opportunity to represent characters. 

Of course, there are many different factors but a lot of actors haven’t had the opportunity to get training so it is a shared experience. 

I’ve managed to gain experience along the way and I share those nuggets of experience with people, even if that is in mainstream work: Everything I learn in a mainstream environment I share beyond the camera and working on set. 

This doesn’t mean that I only bring in D/deaf people, I will bring in hearing talent as well – it is a very important learning experience for both communities to build that bridge. 

For D/deaf and hearing people to be able to work together it doesn’t mean I’m exclusively focusing on deaf people, that’s not actually what I think is the best way. 

The best way is having D/deaf and hearing people working together to achieve and get the job done. I’m always looking for D/deaf talent to nurture and bring them through the process but hearing people too.

You’re BAFTA Breakthrough credit is for your film Here/Not Here. Where did the idea for film come from?

It hops back to many years ago, it was an idea about having a D/deaf musical and the premise of that was to have, as I said, D/deaf people and hearing people in the same space. 

I didn’t have, at that point, the finite details of the story just pieces and it was how the two were in conflict and how they would come together and I wanted to add some musicality to this and that was how Here/Not Here came about.

In what way was it important to you to incorporate BSL in Here/Not Here? 

I think my hope for the future would be that BSL isn’t seen as any different and just seen as another part of society, a normal language. 

There are millions of deaf people, even in the UK, who use this language and so I think whether you sign or you speak, however you choose to communicate, that this should be normalised. 

I really want the film to represent that and I know media can be a powerful force in educating people in that way and getting people to accept what the reality of ‘normal’ is, if you want to call it that. 

And, hopefully more people will be interested in BSL as well.

Similarly, how did you prepare both D/deaf actors and hearing actors to work together?

We did have a lengthy rehearsal process and that also included how we would shoot it in a complimentary sense. 

The main thing was to have the authenticity and texture there to make sure that both people – in terms of D/deaf and hearing – were bringing that to the set. 

With the actors, I was also looking for them to bring a reality to the characters and there were different ways that we went about achieving that, sometimes it was through improvisation work and we were able to find parts that we could get people to engage with. 

Why do you think it is important disability representation happens on and off screen?

I think it really comes down to authentic representation.

Authenticity counts for a lot, it means things are believable and it means that when you look out into society what you see there and what you see on a television screen or film screen is the same. 

Even if it is in a more imaginary environment, there is a lot of disabled and D/deaf characters on the mainstream screen, but sometimes the representation is more from a mobility aspect or pitiful aspect; what people can’t do rather than another alternative. 

Actually, what I want to do is put that aspect of things to one side and focus on the fact that D/deaf people, disabled people can still be a hero and that’s why I think it is important to show that. 

Here/Not Here was there to do this, to show that you shouldn’t be fearful or reticence where that is concerned, everyone can stand on their own ground and hold their own weight with whatever they bring to the table and that is a reality in real life. 

Authenticity counts for a lot in terms of representation and I think having that cultural capital of a D/deaf voice is really crucial. 

Finally, what advice do you have for our readers looking to get into the creative field?

My biggest piece of advice would be just don’t give up and keep going. 

I know that it can be a hard road and you can come across some no’s along that journey, but if someone had said to me that I would never be a director in the mainstream , that I could only work in the D/deaf community and produce media and content in the D/deaf community, that is limiting but I think just go for it: if you have that ambition and dream, don’t let it die. 

Keep going for it. it will be hard work but don’t give up because it is worth it.

Our final interview as part of Enable at the BAFTA’s series lands tomorrow. Don’t miss it by following us on social media,  TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

PARTICIPANTS

The full list of BAFTA Breakthrough participants in 2020 is:

UK (23):

  • Abigail Dankwa, Multi Camera Director (Love Song)
  • Aleem Khan, Director / Writer (After Love)
  • Ali Tocher, Game Audio Designer (Surgeon Simulator 2)
  • Amir El-Masry, Performer (Limbo)
  • Ben Sharrock & Irune Gurtubai, Director / Writer & Producer (Limbo)
  • Bethany Swan, Hair and Makeup up Designer (I May Destroy You)
  • Bim Ajadi, Director (Here Not Here)
  • Bukky Bakray, Performer (Rocks)
  • Catherine Unger, Artist/Co-Writer (Tangle Tower)
  • Chella Ramanan, Narrative Designer/Writer (Before I Forget)
  • Claire Bromley, External Game Producer (Sackboy: A Big Adventure)
  • Jordan Hogg, Director (Ackley Bridge)
  • Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Producer (Blue Story)
  • Lea Schönfelder, Lead Game Designer (Assemble With Care)
  • Linn Waite & Kate Byers, Producers (Bait)
  • Rina Yang, Cinematographer (Sitting in Limbo)
  • Rubika Shah, Director/Writer (White Riot)
  • Ruka Johnson, Costume Designer (Blue Story)
  • Tamara Lawrance, Performer (The Long Song)
  • Tim Renkow, Writer/Performer (Jerk)
  • Youssef Kerkour, Performer (Home)

US (11):

  • Aadip Desai, Writer (The Goldbergs)
  • Arnaldo Licea, Game Designer (The Last of Us Part II)
  • Edson Oda, Director / Writer (Nine Days)
  • Ekwa Msangi, Director / Writer (Farewell Amor)
  • Fernando Reyes Medina, Multiplayer Designer (Halo Infinite)
  • Gene Back, Composer (Cowboys)
  • Jim LeBrecht, Co-Director (Crip Camp)
  • Lauren Ridloff, Performer (Eternals, The Walking Dead)
  • Mary Kenney, Game Writer (Spider-Man: Miles Morales)
  • Nicole Newnham, Co-Director (Crip Camp)
  • Shannon DeVido, Performer (Insatiable, Difficult People)