Interview: Director Chris Overton discusses Academy-Award nominated The Silent Child

By Josh Morris

The Silent Child is a short film that explores isolation and acceptance. At its center is four-year-old Libby (played by the remarkable Maisie Sly), a deaf girl whose mother, Sue (Rachel Fielding), is debating whether Sign Language or reading lips is the best choice for her to function in society. In an effort to assist this decision, Sue hires a social worker, Joanne (the film’s writer Rachel Shenton), to begin teaching Libby Sign Language. As Joanne and Libby curate their quiet, unyielding connection, they quickly learn there are forces, loud and strong, that seek to separate them.

The film has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Chris Overton, the film’s director, was kind enough to discuss his directorial debut with the Informer Media Group.

Informer Media Group: Congratulations on your nomination! What attracted you most this project?
Chris Overton: The subject matter. It’s so unique and something that’s rarely spoken about. I loved the idea of working on something with a strong message. Rachel Shenton has been campaigning for deaf awareness for over a decade. The script had so much authenticity, and that jumped right off the page when I first read it.

Informer Media Group: When did Sign Language become an important issue to you? Why?
Chris Overton: I’ve been involved in the deaf community for about 3 years. Sign language is a beautiful language and is so important in the development of deaf children and for their education. We learn French, German and Spanish in schools so why not sign language?

Informer Media Group: Have you been an advocate for the Hard of Hearing community before this film?
Chris Overton: I have been for about three years – but our writer Rachel Shenton has been in the deaf community for about 12 years.

Informer Media Group: What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this script to the screen?
Chris Overton: The shoot and the fundraising. We crowd funded the movie, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Working with a profoundly deaf child was also very challenging, but definitely my favorite part about making the film. Also finding our own unique style for the film. It’s really rewarding when we hear people say “I want to shoot it like The Silent Child”. We all worked hard to find a style, and I feel like we achieved that. Myself and the DOP Ali Farahani, spent six months working on the shots and the details of the script to achieve that style.

Informer Media Group: There seems to be an aesthetic distinction made between cars and bicycles; is there a reason for that? If so, what is the distinction?
Chris Overton: The bike is a metaphor for Joanne’s work, it is like she is a moving machine, and trying to move Libby away from the world her parents have put her in – a world of isolation and loneliness. The shots at the end as the car goes into the foggy distance represent the separation between Joanne and Libby. When her bike stops at the end near the school gates, it represents the machine has stopped and Joanne’s fight for Libby has come to abrupt end.

Informer Media Group: The last shot of the film feels more “urban” than the rest of the films; was the intentional?
Chris Overton: The last shot of the film has one purpose – which is to show Libby’s isolation in school.

Informer Media Group: Is there something you fear could get lost in translation, specifically for American audiences? For example, does the British geography have any meaning/subtext that foreigners might not understand?
Chris Overton: Not really – I think the film has been received well by different people all over the world especially by an American audience. They love the British feel our movie has.

Informer Media Group: Your IMDb page lists “The Silent Child” as your first and only directing credit; what was the most challenging part of your transition from actor to director?
Chris Overton: I’ve always been a filmmaker. I’ve directed small bits and pieces, like corporate videos etc, but yes this is my first film. I feel like acting has been the training for my directing. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very special directors. I’ve seen how they work and how they approach working with actors. I’ve always been intrigued from a young age about what happens behind the camera – so whenever I was on a set as an actor – I’d take note. I’d ask a lot of questions.

Informer Media Group: Do you now have a preference for directing over acting? Or is acting still your greater passion?
Chris Overton: Acting will always be something I enjoy and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects. I love playing the bad guy. If the right part comes my way, I’ll do it.

But directing and filmmaking is really where my heart lies. Nothing is more exhilarating than taking something from an idea to seeing it on screen and hearing the feedback from the audience.

Informer Media Group: What’s next for you?
Chris Overton: We want to extend The Silent Child. This story needs to be told on a bigger scale whether that be a drama or a feature film. That’s what’s next for me.

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