It was only about a couple weeks ago that I found myself baptized by fire or, perhaps it would be better said, I found myself immersed in the deaf/hard of hearing community. I had volunteered to participate in a work project that involved assessing a funding opportunity for providers of services to deaf/hard of hearing individuals in the State of Indiana and, of course, this meant two full days of sitting in meetings where I was one of the very few individuals participating who could hear. As a lifelong paraplegic born with spina bifida, I've long been accustomed to being the one with a "disability," and it was a remarkable experience to be in a room full of people whose ability to live, communicate, work, and fully experience life while being deaf or hard of hearing opened me up to an entirely different world.
Based upon a beloved character and role model, No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie is the first film in SAG (Screen Actors Guild) commercial feature film history to be executive produced exclusively by deaf executive producers and to be directed by a deaf director. The film, to be distributed by DeafNation, will be open captioned for EVERY screening.
The film has its world premiere, quite appropriately, at the 2013 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, a festival that celebrates films that inspire and capture the positive side of life and celebrate the human spirit. The film tells the story of Tony Kane (John Maucere), who stars in a children's television show as, you guessed it, SuperDeafy, a superhero who just so happens to also be deaf. No Ordinary Hero is no doubt a film that celebrates diversity and seeks to inspire, but it does so in a realistic way as many of the gags involving Kane do center around the many challenges he faces living his daily life in a world that doesn't always understand those who appear to be "different."
At the same time that Kane struggles, the film serves up Jacob (Zane Hencker), a young boy who is deaf and struggling to keep up at school - at least partially because his father (James Leo Ryan) insists he learn lip reading rather than American Sign Language. While dad means well, his insistence that his son not be seen as "different" leads to Jacob's increasing struggles at schools academically and socially.
In other words, it reflects the real world.
While so often these films can inadvertently "disable" their characters even as they seek to inspire, director Troy Kotsur works from a script by Taly Ravid in crafting a film that portrays disability through a largely healthy lens that should open the doors to honest conversations for parents and children. While the filmmaking here isn't particularly innovative, it's most definitely effective in creating entertaining and involving characters who keep you watching the film from beginning to end. The film benefits, and likely financially benefited, from the presence of acclaimed actress Marlee Matlin, whose presence here is relatively brief yet important and effective. It's also a sign that the actress, herself deaf, recognizes the value in the film's message and believes it to be presented well.
While it's not likely that No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie will find itself being mentioned come Academy Awards season, let's face it - sometimes the best and most meaningful films are those that don't always grab the spotlight. Maucere and Hencker do a nice job here, portraying with honesty and authenticity the challenges of being deaf in a largely hearing culture while never presenting their characters as "disabled' by their disability. As one might expect, the film does occasionally tug at the heartstrings yet never in an obnoxious way.
No Ordinary Hero: The SuperDeafy Movie is a family friendly film and, I'd dare say, a must see for parents who desire to have their children grow up celebrating the differences that exist between us.
No ordinary hero? Definitely true. Definitely a hero.
For more information on the film's remaining screenings at Heartland, visit the Heartland Film Festival website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic