What happens when an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and documentarian turns the camera on her own life...or, more precisely, the lives of her parents?
Irene Taylor Brodsky's "Hear and Now," winner of the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival, follows her 65-year-old deaf parents as they embark on the journey to have cochlear implants that may, or may not, enable the two to experience hearing for the first time in their lives.
Brodsky,who narrates the film as she follows her parents from approximately a week before the surgery to the one-year anniversary, gives the film its emotional core not through examination of cochlear implants themselves, but through the beauty of this 30-year love story between two individuals who grew up deaf in an era that didn't understand deafness, met at Central Institute for the Deaf and, finally, fell in love and raised three children in a loving, stable home.
Just as her parents' lives have not been defined by a disability, so too "Hear and Now" is not defined by the overcoming of disability. While "Hear and Now" is often painful to watch as we see these two older adults attempt to deal with sudden integration of SO MUCH SOUND after so many years of silence, it is also beautiful to be hold as we watch the two rely on the same interpersonal and adaptive skills that have allowed them to live so successfully their entire lives.
Brodsky's background in television documentaries, at times, becomes quite obvious as she frames "Hear and Now" into what often feels like a Discovery Channel documentary (it is, in fact, an HBO Documentary Film). Brodsky's decision to center the film almost solely on her parents, without really any significant examination of cochlear implants, the deaf community or, to any serious degree, the procedure's impact on extended family, both provides the film its focus and makes it feel incredibly narrow and, at times, a bit self-centered as we listen to repeated examples of her mother's non-compliance with recommendations and, then, her frustration when things don't go as she'd hoped.
Judging by the questions during the Q&A session following the film's 2007 Heartland Film Festival screening, where it received a Crystal Heart Award, audiences are likely to leave the film with more questions than answers. While the Cochlear Implant surgery itself is presented in vivid detail, Brodsky's film is so exclusively focussed on her parents that by the time "Hear and Now" ends it's rather difficult to question why this all needed to be documented.
Brodsky's father, Paul, who invented the TTY that has so connected the deaf community to the rest of the world, is perhaps the film's most delightful component. Paul explains as the film ends that he prefers the TTY to the Cochlear Implant because the TTY connected him to the rest of the world, while the Cochlear Implant simply allowed him to hear.
This insight, brilliant in its simplicity, is applicable to "Hear and Now." While Brodsky's film allows us inside the world of her wonderful parents, I only wished that by the end of the film I had felt more connected to them.
"Hear and Now" is continuing its screenings at the Heartland Film Festival. While its audience appeal is rather limited, the film is a solid example of human interest documentary filmmaking and affords Indy audiences a rare chance to see such filmmaking in Central Indiana.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic