Old Mother Tongue

A Deaf man grapples with his sense of identity in a hearing world and is taken on a fabulistic journey through time to one of the most significant events in Deaf history: the Milan Conference on the Education of the Deaf 1880, when sign language was banned from use in education.

  • Mark Trifunovic
    Director
    Deafening Darkness, BALLS! Appointments, Appointments at Christmas
  • Mark Trifunovic
    Writer
  • Mark Trifunovic
    Producer
    Busking Turf Wars
  • Victoria Soo Lum
    Key Cast
  • Ralista Rodriguez
    Key Cast
  • Clarence Cansicio
    Key Cast
  • Elizabeth Morris
    Key Cast
    "Old Mother Tongue"
  • Ali Saeedi
    Co-Producers
  • Alana Robshaw
    Co-Producers
  • Project Type:
    Short
  • Genres:
    Drama, Historical, Fiction
  • Runtime:
    16 minutes 41 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 9, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    59,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    Canada
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada
  • Language:
    American Sign Language
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital Arri Alexa Mini
  • Aspect Ratio:
    16:9
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Old Mother Tongue World Premiere
    Toronto
    Canada
    September 23, 2021
    World Premiere
  • London Short Film Festival
    London
    United Kingdom
    January 15, 2022
    UK Premiere
  • OHRZU Deaf Film Festival

    Switzerland
    October 30, 2021
    European Premiere
  • Sign Language Film Festival
    Turku
    Finland
    November 20, 2021
    Official Selection
Distribution Information
  • Disability Media Network
    Distributor
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: Video on Demand
Director Biography - Mark Trifunovic

Mark Trifunovic is a filmmaker from Leeds, U.K., now living and working in Toronto, Canada. Mark writes, directs, produces and edits his own films, while also crewing on various NABET and IATSE Union shoots as a technician in the Set Dec department.

Mark has been collaborating with the Deaf community of Toronto for 6 years, first with Deafening Darkness, a Toronto Arts Council funded psychological drama/thriller, and most recently with Old Mother Tongue, an Ontario Arts Council / Canada Council for the Arts funded short which explores Deaf identity, culture and language. As a hearing director who is learning American Sign Language, he is uniquely positioned for these kinds of cross-community collaborations that create acting opportunities for Deaf people in film.

Mark's filmmaking career started in the U.K. after graduating Law school. He started working as a production assistant and assistant director on various music videos, short films, TV dramas, documentaries and feature films, during which time he started making films of his own. He received support from Leeds' BAFTA award winning Executive Producer Kay Mellor to make his short film, DRIP, after working with her on Rollem Productions' The Syndicate II.

In 2015, Mark produced his first feature film, Busking Turf Wars, working closely with his younger brother Peter Trifunovic who co-wrote and directed the film. After a packed out premiere screening at Leeds' Hyde Park Picture House, Busking Turf Wars went on screen at film festivals in the USA, Canada and England, winning several awards including the coveted Audience Choice award at No Gloss Film Festival when it returned to screen in Leeds in October 2016.

Mark continues to collaborate with people from the Deaf community. He is working towards his goal of having Deaf and hearing actors performing alongside each other on screen, as he believes there is much to be learned from these types of collaborations.

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Director Statement

The 1880 Milan Conference on the Education of the Deaf still looms large over the Deaf community today, nearly 150 years later. I was shocked to learn that signed languages had been banned, and yet, for an oppression that had such profound and lasting effects for so many people, it is known by so few today.

I learned about the Milan Conference during production of Deafening Darkness, my first film collaboration with the Deaf community of Toronto. It was one of two topics that kept coming up time and again from my Deaf collaborators, the other being equally contentious: cochlea implants.

With the huge advances in medical technology and the gradually increasing success rates of cochlea implants, many people in the Deaf community feel like their culture and language is under threat once again and that their concerns are not being heard.

Separated by over 100 years, and with approaches that have grown more subtle and sophisticated, the historical and contemporary oppressions of Deaf people go hand in hand: manual languages are subjugated in order to favour auditory ones. Audism - the belief that the ability to hear makes one superior to those with hearing loss - is a subject scarcely known about, and is at the core of the story I wanted to tell.

I wanted to tell a story that was, in and of itself, about storytelling, weaving into the very fabric of the film the passing on of language from generation to generation. I chose to work again with an all Deaf cast, which meant flipping the script on the typical representation of Deaf and disabled people in cinema by casting Deaf people in hearing roles. And in doing so, I've created a film that can provide hope and inspiration for anybody struggling with their sense of identity, whether they be connected to the Deaf community or not.