In April 1973, 12 years after it had been produced in 1962, Children of The Silent Night was presented at an impressive 155 showings. The film, directed by Robert M. Campbell, highlights the methods used in the deafblind program at Perkins School for the Blind. It features stories of successful alumni and several students who are shown learning important aspects of the curriculum, such as the Tadoma method of communication. The film earned both national and international awards alongside enthusiastic praise.
But Children of the Silent Night wasn’t the only film that Campbell made for Perkins. His other films include:
- The Perkins Story, 1957 — Released as part of 125th anniversary, this film talks about how Perkins got to where it is (in 1957), the services offered and what happens on a day-to-day basis. Teachers are shown working with students as a narrator describes the curriculum offered, adaptations and techniques that are in place. It won a Blue Ribbon Award at the American Film Festivals in New York City held by the Educational Film Library Association.
- Legacy of Anne Sullivan, 1968 — This film was made in partnership with The Industrial Home for the Blind in Brooklyn, New York. It tells the story of students with deafblindness who graduated from Perkins, while referring to the teaching methods Anne Sullivan used with Helen Keller. The film reflects on the legacy of Sullivan’s pioneering work and the impact it still has today educating people with deafblindness, particularly at Perkins. It includes a summary of the curriculum and teaching methods used by teachers at Perkins.
- Realities of Blindness-The Perkins Experience, 1972 — This film describes what is taught at Perkins and how the curriculum prepares students for employment and work. It includes discussion and demonstration of adaptations that are made for students while they are at Perkins and how people who are blind or deafblind can be successful in workplaces. The film also presents a summary of some advances made in the education of people who are blind and deafblind. It describes services and resources available to students and teachers at Perkins.
- The Perkins Story Adapting to Change, 1977 — Perkins services, innovations, and legacy are presented in this film. It focuses on how Perkins has “evolved with the times” and the development of new programs, including educating the public about the needs and abilities of people who are blind. It describes how the inclusion movement and medical advances have affected Perkins’ offerings and population. The curriculum, educational activities, and resources are highlighted. The film also addresses commonly made assumptions about people who are blind or deafblind. It includes a discussion of the importance of job training for students with blindness and deafblindness.
Designed to educate the public about people with blindness, and deafblindness, the films made for Perkins serve as documentation of work towards inclusivity and a better life that proudly continues today. The demand for Campbell’s films far exceeded Perkins’ expectations. Indeed, groups interested in showing the films were told that they should “try to give Mr. Campbell as much warning as possible so that they may avoid disappointment.”
Campbell’s films provided an opportunity for people across the country and the world to learn about people with deafblindness and the work that Perkins was doing in the new Deaf-Blind Department. Showings were requested by school districts, individual public and private schools, hospitals, college, universities, and churches. Of course, the films were also used to raise funds for Perkins and the Deaf-Blind Department. Many people at the time did not have experience interacting with people with blindness and deafblindness and these films allowed them to learn more about the population. Perkins continues to fight stigmas, misperceptions, and deep feelings about blindness that lead to marginalization and exclusion through Blind New World.
Campbell’s work with Perkins went beyond his role of director, however. In December 1977, he was serving as a Perkins’ Public Relations Consultant — a first for someone outside of the institution.
Campbell passed away recently, just weeks before his 100th birthday but his legacy at Perkins continues through his films, which have been digitized and are available on the Internet Archive. We’ve recently digitized another film, Deafblind Circus, that will be available for viewing online soon.
More information about Robert Campbell’s work with Perkins:
- Perkins Moving Picture Available (The Lantern, September 15, 1957)
- Children of The Silent Night (The Lantern, March 15, 1958)
- “The Perkins Story” Wins Prize (The Lantern, June 15, 1959)
- New Documentary Film: Children of The Silent Night (The Lantern, September 1961)
- Public Education Program at Perkins (1962 Annual Report)
- Need for Public Education About the Deaf-Blind (1966 Annual Report)
- An Interview With Perkins’ Past (The Lantern, December 1977)
Coit, Susanna. “Presenting Perkins: The films of Robert M. Campbell.” Perkins Archives Blog, Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown MA. February 7, 2019.