Film Director Alek Lev ’97 Returns to Campus: A Conversation about Learning ASL at Wesleyan, Directing, and More

On Thursday, April 4th, Wesleyan alum and acclaimed film director Alek Lev ’97 joined the Center for the Arts’s Film Series screening of “WHAT?”, a movie about a Deaf actor who is trying to thrive in his Hollywood career as he takes the proper representation of a Deaf character in a film into his own hands. The film uses sharp humor, a piano-only soundtrack and sound, and black-and-white format, calling back to the silent films of the 20th century, to convey the life of a Deaf actor in a world where he is forced to go through a series of humiliating tasks just to get noticed by a film director.

After the movie screening, Assistant Professor of American Sign Language Pedro Pascual moderated a Q&A with the film’s director, where students, staff, and faculty were able to discuss the origins of Alek Lev’s experiences with ASL here at Wesleyan, and how that has led to a 25 year career in Deaf theater and film. He spoke about his love for Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, whose careers in silent films served as inspiration for the format of “WHAT?”; he gave advice to aspiring film students on working with Deaf and hearing actors; and he spoke about careers in ASL, from film to interpreting to theater.

On Friday, Alek visited the introductory sign language courses, where students were able to enjoy behind-the-scenes clips of the movies and talk about the importance of casting Deaf actors in Deaf roles. “Being able to see how he used the skills that he learned at Wesleyan, especially never having taken an ASL class before going to college, was really inspiring. It gave me lots of ideas as to what I can do with sign language after I graduate,” one student remarked.

For more information on Alek Lev and his works, visit his website: