Behind the Scenes
Come make history at the SignLight International Film Festival!
For the first time, Deaf filmmakers from around the globe will be gathered together in Hollywood, the center of the entertainment business, to showcase their work to the industry and to the Deaf community and allies worldwide via our special streaming platform.
All four days of the festival take place at the landmark Pacific Design Center, providing plenty of space for mingling, lounging, and discussing the films screened in the Silver Screen Theater. A gala filmmakers’ welcome dinner and closing live-streamed awards ceremony bookend a weekend of special presentations, panel discussions, and workshops. Travel and lodging assistance will be offered to accepted entrants to ensure the invaluable opportunities for learning and networking are available to all!
Founder & Executive Director
Decades of television, film, theater, stand-up comedy, and event hosting have made CJ an exceptionally popular figure among Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing and Hearing Signers worldwide. Recently, general audiences have come to recognize CJ through his highly-acclaimed role as Joseph, the caring father, in Edgar Wright’s global blockbuster film, Baby Driver, in addition to his many co-starring roles on popular streaming series. CJ is also frequently on set as a DSL (Director of Sign Language), working with producers, directors, and actors on series for top streamers such as HBO and Hulu, as well as on numerous commercials. Most notably, CJ created the Na'vi Sign Language (NSL) for Avatar: The Way of Water, working closely with James Cameron on and off the set. CJ is a featured part of the film's promotional campaign, introducing the world to NSL in a series of short videos.
An energetic, prolific producer, director, and writer, CJ is also a leading advocate and champion for the inclusion and authentic representation of people with disabilities. This passion propelled CJ to found his own production company, SignWorld Studios, Inc., and its nonprofit subsidiary, SignLight, Inc., SIFF's producing entity. Frequently seen on entertainment industry panels, CJ has been a featured speaker at TedX and at Gallaudet’s 2021 Commencement Address at which he received an Honorary Degree.
Michelle has showcased Deaf Culture, Deaf talent, and the creative beauty of Sign Language on stage and screen for much of her entertainment career. Working as a National Endowment for the Arts Artist-in- Residence at a deaf residential school, she quickly became fluent in ASL, and went on to interpret the first professional stage play in Chicago. After training with the National Theater of the Deaf at the O'Neill Center in CT (where she first met CJ Jones), she toured with the Chicago Theater of the Deaf and Cleveland's Fairmount Theater of the Deaf. She also produced and directed the showcase event of the President’s Commission on Employment of the Handicapped gala at the Kennedy Center, introduced Deaf characters in children’s animation series, toys, and books, and proudly served as Deaf West Theatre’s Board President, during an exciting time of growth highlighted by their Broadway run of Spring Awakening.
A seasoned producer, director, and writer, Michelle led creative development and casting teams at The Walt Disney Company, where she also produced Signin’ in the Street, a 3-day celebration of creativity in the Deaf Community, created in association with Disney-ABC’s Switched at Birth. As an independent producer, she's created numerous live events, and has garnered several awards for children’s programming and educational films. Michelle is also a co-founder of All the People, Inc., whose major work uncovering the untold stories of the Deaf Experience in World War II and the Holocaust is now a featured part of the online archive of the United States Holocaust Museum.
Tari Hartman Squire
Tari Hartman Squire's EIN SOF Communications, a leading strategic marketing, employment consultation, media, and production company specializing in Deaf/disability-inclusive diversity. She consults on TV, film, marketing/ad campaigns for clients such as Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Amazon Studios, American Masters, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, BBDO, CBS, Fox Searchlight, McDonald's, MaPel, Meta, Microsoft, NBCUniversal, Nickelodeon, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Women's eNews.
Tari established disability strategic marketing with her MY LEFT FOOT campaign/DC Congressional Screening, aimed to support the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act to prove that ADA is a marketing opportunity. After experiencing discrimination in casting during a temporary disability, she and other disabled actors spearheaded SAG's Committee of Performers with Disabilities. EIN SOF designs strategic alliances with Deaf/disability-led organizations, corporations, and foundations with its Disability Community Market Research Initiative, including The Disability Collection with Verizon, Getty Images, and National Disability Leadership Alliance to create authentic Deaf/disability images in stock photos.
Tari's Lights! Camera! Access! (LCA) Career Exploration/Incubator Initiative increases work in front of and behind the camera; improves portrayals, increases accessible media, and creates a Deaf/disability talent pipeline. She and producing partner Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld) established ADA Lead On Productions, hiring 100% Deaf/disabled talent. ADA Lead On won the 2021 Shorty Audience Honors Award and the 2022 Gold Anthem DEI Award. She co-authored the Ruderman TV Challenge to audition performers with disabilities; Making News: How to Get Disability Rights Coverage; and also advised AP Stylebook on disability-savvy semantics. Tari is conversant in ASL.
Michael Kaufer was the innovative director of the trailblazing summer experience Deaf Film Camp from from 2015 - 2021, training children ages 13-17 in the fundamental aspects of production, from concept through editing. His tireless fundraising efforts resulted in the training of over 600 campers, with several successfully applying their skills in a variety of careers, including entertainment. During this time, Michael built a 25-year career as a highly-respected educator of Deaf, hard of hearing, hearing, and CODA students in the New York City school system.
Upon retiring from his teaching position in NYC, Michael's influence and advocacy flourished on a global scale. He has been a consultant for Lights! Camera! Access! since 2015, working closely with Tari Hartman Squire to foster media and entertainment industry employment for people with disabilities. Michael also established and continues to run his own nonprofit organization, Front Row Films, offering accessible online media training classes taught by Deaf professionals in ASL w/voice interpretation. Believing that every deaf and hard-of-hearing child who aspires to work in media can achieve their dream, Michael founded the online Deaf Junior Film Academy to serve as an early catalyst to their success.
Michael first ventured into the world of film festivals as a two-time Judge for the world's largest Deaf creative arts festival, the prestigious Clin d'Oeil in Reims, France. He went on to take the helm as the Film Festival Manager in 2022 and will be reprising that role in 2024. In addition to this year's Creative Director duties with the SignLight International Film Festival, Michael also serves as a Judge for the 2023 Della Award Film Festival in Germany.
When not focused on film, Michael enjoys his "day job" as an Apple Specialist, currently focused on being a terrific People Operations Planner for Apple's Upper West Side store.
Melissa's media career began when she was a student at Gallaudet University hosting the campus news show, What's Up Gallaudet. She proved to be an astute reporter and insightful interviewer, but upon graduation had little hope of landing a job in on-camera journalism. Then came the social media explosion that rocked the world and unlocked doors of opportunity!
Melissa quickly got back into the anchor chair on social media shows Deaf Hearing Network, DPAN-TV, AND TruBiz. Created by and for the Deaf community, these shows grew in popularity as Melissa's sparkling personality and keen intelligence covering a wide range of topics and personalities won her thousands of deaf and hearing fans. Inspired by friends, fans, and her many messages of support, Melissa created her own show and social media persona, MELMIRA, boosting her popularity tenfold, making her one of the most popular, most followed, and most recognized Deaf personalities in social media.
Melissa will be present throughout all four days of the SignLight International Film Festival, and "Melmira" will be live-streaming interviews, sneaking online viewers behind-the-scenes, and taking selfies with fans. Both Melissa and Melmira hope to see you there!