Amber Zion and Christopher Desouza give mesmerizing performances in writer/director Aaron Smithson's 11-minute short film Before Dark, the thoughtful and sensitive story of soon-to-be parents Rebecca (Zion) and Joshua (Desouza).
The two are both deaf, Rebecca having been born deaf and Joshua having lost his hearing in childhood. Rebecca's recently revealed pregnancy adds a layer of tension to the couple's unfolding Appalachian Trail hike as the two argue over whether a cochlear implant should be used if their child is born deaf.
Smithson's intelligently written script approaches the debate intelligently and fairly, Joshua still having times when he seemingly grieves the loss of his hearing and wanting to give his child the chance for the best life possible while Rebecca refuses to see being deaf as a disability but rather as a culture.
Before Dark presents the question, though Smithson wisely avoids overly simplifying the moral implications of the issue and also wisely avoids making out either Rebecca or Joshua do be any sort of "bad guy" or "bad girl" in this scenario. It helps, of course, to also have two really terrific performances from both Zion and Desouza to bring this story life.
Zion gives a tender yet defiant performance as Rebecca, who has never known life outside being deaf and who embraces her cultural identity with passion and acceptance. Desouza's Joshua, on the other hand, comes off as just a wee bit less sure of himself. He's seemingly adjusted to being deaf, but that word "acceptance" might just not be in his vocabulary yet. Still, the bond between Rebecca and Joshua feels genuine and it's that bond of intimacy and comfort in the silences that really makes Before Dark such an emotionally resonant film.
Shot in North Georgia with many of the shots on the actual Appalachian Trail, Before Dark also utilizes authentic casting as both Zion and Desouza are actors who are deaf while one producer, the set operation manager, and a grip were also all deaf. The film's 1st AD, Noah Feldman, is also noted as being fluent in American Sign Language. In short, it's clear that Smithson wanted to tell a story that resonated within the deaf community and set about to do it in all the right ways.
D.P. Luis Peña's lensing is simply sublime, magnificently capturing the beauty of the Appalachian while also lingering patiently within the back-and-forth dialogue and quieter moments between Rebecca and Joshua.
Before Dark is both a beautifully photographed film and a meaningful, entertaining cinematic experience that comes to life in its short span of 11 minutes. Smithson keeps the story simple yet substantial, both Rebecca and Joshua revealing the depths of their worlds and challenging us to understand their thoughts, hopes, joys, and concerns. Set to screen at ReelAbilities in Pittsburgh from September 4-11th, you can find out more by visiting the ReelAbilities Pittsburgh website.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic