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What would you sacrifice for love? In The Gift, main characters Tara and Iron fall in love only to find they cannot communicate in the everyday world: Tara is a deaf dancer, Iron is a hearing musician. Tara is played by Tami Santimyer, who received a master’s degree from Gallaudet in 2005 and currently teaches English at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD). Yola Rozynek, a performing arts specialist at MSSD, also plays a role. The part of Iron is played by actor Steven Quinn.

In the style of O. Henry’s short story, “Gift of the Magi,” director Alexander Genievsky has created another memorable pair of star-crossed lovers. The film premiered at MSSD on April 14. The Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival committee selected The Gift as one of 20 films from over 100 entries submitted to show May 12 to 15 at the festival.

Genievsky, an American born and raised in Russia, knows well what it is like to be pulled between two worlds. In 1981, while in college, he was called up for military service in Afghanistan and lost his hearing at age 21. He found he was shut out of the world he had known until he discovered St. Petersburg Pavlovsk College for the Deaf, where he studied for three years and learned Russian Sign Language. He later earned an associate’s degree in culture, arts, and cinematography from St. Petersburg State University and a master’s degree in theater arts from the B.V. Shukin Higher Theater School. Twenty years ago, Genievsky immigrated to the United States and studied American Sign Language.

For The Gift, Genievsky wanted to use the format of a short film to tell a story of why love and communication are the most important things in life. “I wanted to make a film that would cherish deaf culture,” he said. “I wanted the audience to realize that the story I wrote and filmed draws from the heart through the eyes. There is a bond between the heart and the eyes,” said Genievsky. “Unfortunately, there are many people who have their eyes wide open, but are unable to notice what they are seeing. My grandfather called ‘the blindfolded hearts.’ I think the greatest gift God has given us is not only to see the world, but to notice it, to understand it, to have a sense of each other without words–and for artists to try and find a unique creative form to express what we’re seeing.”

The Gift was filmed over the course of seven weekends on location in Baltimore, Md., and Washington, D.C.

Santimyer auditioned by videophone for the role of Tara. She has experience as a stage actress, but found film a very different medium. “For me, onstage movements are exaggerated. Compared to theater, facial movements on film are much more subtle and require an intense focus. Making the film was a good learning experience–we had a wonderful production team,” she said. Rozynek has the part of a demanding dance instructor in the film, a role she plays for real every day while working with MSSD students on dance and theater productions. Genievsky expressed appreciation to all the cast and crew and a special thanks to MSSD and Rozynek for arranging the showing of the film in MSSD’s Theatre Malz.

“I am also grateful to our producer, Jacquie Greff, from Tonal Vision LLC, and her husband, Kraig Gress, who wrote an original song and score for the film,” said Genievsky.

Once The Gift is launched in the United States and Canada, Genievsky plans to start production on a science fiction film with the working title, The Island of the Deaf. This summer he plans to participate in 48 Hours, a nationwide film project in Baltimore. Filmmakers interested in taking part in this project can contact Genievsky directly.

Watch “The Gift” film trailer.

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