Name Me Lawand

UK 2022, 91 mins
Director: Edward Lovelace

From Mat Whitecross’s Moving to Mars (2009), a study of two Burmese refugee families resettling in Sheffield, to recent fictional evocations of immigrant dislocation such as Ben Sharrock’s Limbo and Remi Weekes’s His House (both 2020), plenty of recent films have explored the truism voiced by the protagonist’s father in Name Me Lawand: arriving in the UK in search of sanctuary is ‘not the end of the journey, just the beginning’. Where Edward Lovelace’s portrait of a young Kurdish refugee in Derby shuffles the deck is in the nature of Lawand’s identity and condition: born profoundly deaf, he was consigned to incapacity and isolation in his poorer homeland; at six, his family has brought him to the UK to find sign-language education, to help him communicate, live and grow. Here, the challenges of exile intersect with other forms of difference and exclusion. As Lawand’s elder brother Rawa tells us, in a prologue cut to outer-space imagery, Lawand feels he belongs on another planet.

The film gives us an inside-out portrait of Lawand, especially early on: close-up, shallow-focus camerawork emulates the dampened, muffled sound space he lives in; cut-in phone-camera flashbacks gesture to his trauma. Until now, Lawand has been pressured to conform: even his parents want him to speak to fit in. At the Royal School for the Deaf in Derby he learns British Sign Language; a winning teacher and budding friendships draw him out of his shell. But his progress is delicate, and when news filters in that the Home Office wants to return him to Iraq, Lawand is burdened with banishing a state’s doubts about his potential, on top of upholding his own fragile self-confidence.

Structured in seven pithy, thematically titled chapters (‘Discovery’, ‘Courage’, ‘Truth’, ‘Faith’ etc), the film is carefully, considerately crafted, mediating between subject and viewer through a language of elegant impressionism and collaborative expression rather than more imposing forms of documentary encounter (four editors worked on the rich sensory weave). Viewers – at least those of us different from Lawand – grow into his shoes, approaching an understanding of his needs and outlook. For Lawand, a breakthrough moment is a journey to a rally for BSL rights in London: amid placards saying ‘Hear your deaf voice roar’, he finally feels belonging, on what, Rawa concludes, may after all be his ‘perfect’ planet.
Nick Bradshaw, Sight and Sound, Summer 2023

Director’s statement
Name Me Lawand is a story about the power that language gives us, the freedom that a real home allows us, and the burning light of hope that never goes out.

This is a film that feels, instead of tells. It constantly searches, at first unknowingly, for a sense of understanding. Its audience is asked to experience Lawand’s journey just as he did.

Fear initially turns into truth, friendship and connection. As it becomes clearer in Lawand’s mind who he is, and what the world around him feels like, we too begin to understand.

Lawand is someone who for most of his life has had other people speak for him, represent him. This has been his greatest frustration, desperately wanting to communicate to the world who he is, in his own way. For Lawand it is simple – when he communicates in British Sign Language, he is the real Lawand.

The film’s goal is to show the world what can happen when someone is given the freedom to express themselves in their language of choice, in a place they feel they can be celebrated as their true self.

I discovered Lawand and his brother through a photo taken by a photographer who had visited the family when they first arrived in Derby. On learning more about their story, I visited his school and met him and his family early in 2019. Then, we didn’t have a shared language, but we quickly bonded as I learnt British Sign Language and we started to build our film team – with a Kurdish and a deaf producer.

I wanted to build trust and a strong foundation, so I spent most of 2019 being present at Lawand’s school (The Royal School for the Deaf Derby), talking to teachers and forging bonds. They saw that I felt inspired just to exist there.

Our connection with the family has also been something we have been so proud of. We have assisted them on their visits to court and helped in various ways in their Home Office case. Possibly, the most notable moment was a segment from the film showcasing Lawand’s fluency in British Sign Language which became a pivotal moment in the Home Office’s understanding of the importance of this language to Lawand.

To become a part of Lawand’s journey, however small, is one of my proudest achievements. I want the film to celebrate the light that shines from Lawand.
Production notes

Director: Edward Lovelace
©: Lawand Film Limited, Pulse Films, ESC Studios, British Film Institute
a Pulse Films production
This film was made with and for: The Royal School for the Deaf in Derby
Presented by: BFI Doc Society Fund, Pulse Films, Electric Shadow Company
Executive Producers: Tim O’Shea, Thomas Benski, Diene Petterle, Lisa Marie Russo, Kwesi Dickson, Isabel Freer
Produced by: Fleur Nieddu
Producers: Sam Arnold, Beyan Taher, Neil Andrews, Marisa Clifford, Edward Lovelace
Line Producer: Lottie Allen
Written by: Edward Lovelace
Director of Photography: Ben Fordesman
VFX: FrameStore
Edited by: David Charap, Shahnaz Dulaimy, Michael Nollet, David Whitakker
Film Titles by: Lucia Garcia
Colourist: Matthieu Toullet
Original Score by: Tom Hodge
End Credit Music by : Danny Lane
Sound Designer & Mixer: Ed Downham
Sound Recordists: Joe Harris, Stephen Hodge
Deaf Consultant: Sean Chandler

UK 2022
91 mins

A BFI release

Audio Description available at all screenings

All screenings will be presented with additional descriptive subtitles of non-dialogue audio

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound & the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email