Deaf Life8th April 2015

Braam Jordaan, Instrumental Deaf Film Producer and Human Rights Ambassador

Born Deaf to Deaf parents, Braam is a wonderful Deaf success story

by Sarah Lawrence

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing Deaf people achieve great things. Looking back in time, history tells us that Deaf people have made significant contributions to the world we live in today. This is particularly so in America, but not exclusively so. Looking around the current crop of Deaf sports stars, educationalists, entrepreneurs, business people and Deaf representatives, I wondered who might make those history books  for generations to read about in the future.

One of my favourites of today’s generation of Deaf people is Braam Jordaan, or to use his full name, Johannes Abram Jordaan. Braam is doing great things, both in respect of individual achievement and in a representative role for Deaf and otherwise disabled people. Many Deaf people will know his name because of his work with UNICEF and the World Federation of the Deaf, where he champions for better education and the wider use of sign language. Catching up with Braam during his busy schedule, I wanted to know a little more about the man, and the work he does in the creative industry.

Born profoundly Deaf to Deaf parents in Benoni, Johannesburg, Braam is a native user of South African Sign Language. Attending three mainstream schools whilst growing up, his educational achievements were supported by the provision of a sign language interpreter, until he entered the De La Bat School for the Deaf.

Aged 16, Braam attended the first-ever Deaf Youth Leadership Camp led by the Honorable Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen. Identified early in his life as a charismatic person and someone with good representative skills, he was subsequently elected to attend the National Youth Policy Commission in Midrand in 1998. He also participated in the Law Commission Workshop at The Bastion in Newlands, Cape Town and won 3rd Prize in the J. Kissoon Singh Memorial National Communication Skills contest.

Whilst at De La Bat his interest in influencing and overseeing organisational policy and practice continued to grow, with Braam being a Member of the Council of Learners, between 1998 and 2000, and the Chairperson in 2000. On the academic side, he became the first person in De La Bat School's 132-year history to achieve A-Aggregate with three distinctions in higher grade subjects (senior certificate examination).

Keen to get work experience and to put his creative talents to good use, Braam started working for the Vasoline Advertising Agency during high-school holidays. Following his graduation from the De La Bat School, his academic success led to him being offered a bursary from the Department of Labour to study Computer Arts at the Universal Computer Arts Academy (UCAA).

He studied film/animation at the UCAA, the academy at the time being South Africa’s sole internationally-accredited animation school with qualifications equivalent to NQF 6 (B.A. with Honours). Despite not having access to a sign language interpreter at the academy he achieved top marks at 97%. A keen and accomplished student, Braam successfully graduated from the UCAA , entering the workplace at Wicked Pixels, Condor Cape town/Waterfront Studios. A highly reputable post-production company, creating visual effects and animation for TV commercials, at Wicked Pixels, Braam worked on individual projects and as part of a team. His tasks ranged from completing everything on a small number of shots to working on specific tasks within a larger body of work. His clients included, BMW, Nampak Twinsavers, Rabea Tea, Mitsubishi, Musica, Kingdom Holdings Company, Fedhealth and Yardley.

Going on to undertake many successful projects in the creative film industry, Braam is perhaps best known for his enchanting one-­minute animation entitled, “The Rubbish Monster” which won a coveted Jury Special Prize in the Commissioned Films category at the 7th Seoul International Cartoon & Animation Festival (SICAF) in South Korea. The animated film came out top of the 169 selected films (from 1,275 received from 41 Countries). The fact that Braam is Deaf was never mentioned to the judging panel, proving that his creativity goes beyond any disability. In total, “The Rubbish Monster”, has won 12 awards, including Multi choice Vuka, 5th Kalamazoo Animation Festival International and Animation Exchange Best of the Best. 

“The Rubbish Monster” was also featured in The Filmmakers' Guide to South Africa: 10th Anniversary Edition as, “The Review of the Decade”. It led to Cambridge University Press publishing his children’s book adaptation in 2009, and it is currently translated into a Swedish version called Skräpmonstret. Braam’s involvement with his book didn't stop with the publication, he is single ­handedly promoting the book all over the world and has already managed to sell twice as many copies as the next best­ selling title in the Rainbow Reading Series, which boasts 350 titles in the series. 

Braam’s convivial and helpful approach along with his creative genius has underpinned his work with organisations and institutions in different parts of the world. He developed a rabbit character for the world's first online animated Sign Language Dictionary for the Deaf Culture Centre in Toronto, Canada, and Sipho the Lion, the official mascot of the XVI World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). A hard worker and a ‘doer’, Braam led the technical and marketing committees for the same congress.

Development of the “Signing Dictionary for Kids”, was a result of collaborative efforts across three countries, allowing Deaf children to look up signs online in their primary language for the first time. An animated character signs the definition looked up and uses the word in sentences in Sign Language (with optional English text and voice) along with the English vocabulary counterpart, giving the option to look up English words and to find the counterpart in animated Sign Language. This flexibility promotes independent online Sign Language learning by first and second language users of Sign Language. Results showed increased vocabulary search skills as well as increased vocabulary, definitions and knowledge. 

One of his most successful projects saw him working with Galludet University where he conjured the visual effects and animation for their short film titled, “Gallaudet” (2010). The short video has gone on to have over 140,000 views. Multi-award winning since leaving university, Braam has a list of achievements that is the envy of much older people working in his industry. A proven leader and team worker, he has also been instrumental in guiding and developing young people in the development of animated film.

Now specialising in film production and transfiguring creative concepts into high­-end and award­-winning film, animation, visual effects and the new media, Braam was also the winner of the DeafNation Inspiration Award for Visual Arts in 2012. He is the Director of Creative Marketing for Convo Communications in Manhattan, New York City.

Commenting on his many successes, Braam told me that he draws inspiration from the Deaf community. “Uplifting the communities through my visual work, portraying strong messages of hope and happiness is a true reflection of the cultural pride I inherited as a Deaf person.” Showing his international working reach and in addition to using South African Sign Language, Braam is also able to communicate effectively in Afrikaans, English, American Sign Language and International Sign. He can also get by in British Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, Dutch and Flemish.

A much heralded speaker, presenter and trainer, Braam has undertaken engagements all over the world in a number of different roles. Much of this work, in which he works tirelessly to promote Sign Language, creative communication and the Human Rights of Deaf people, will be covered in a second article about this impressive young man.

Article by Sarah Lawrence

posted in Community / Deaf Life

8th April 2015