[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
First time American filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky will travel to Park City with her doc “Hear and Now,” which Sundance calls “a magical and deeply moving story of two people who embark on an extraordinary journey from silence to sound.” After 65 years of silence, Paul and Sally Taylor decide to get cochlear implant surgery and experience something that has been absent all their lives–the realm of sound. Brodsky captures her deaf parents’ complex decision to undergo the risky and controversial procedure, which is the only one that actually restores a sense. “Hear and Now” will screen in the Independent Film Competition: Documentary section at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival.
Tell us about yourself…
For the last year, I’ve been a filmmaker by night, and a Mom by day. My son, Jonas was born in January – 2 days after I finished the 104-minute rough cut of my film. I Fed Ex’d it to a few key people, sat back and waited for the REAL labor to begin.
For those first few months after Jonas’ birth, my creative life would begin only after he went to bed. There was a lot of cutting, re-cutting, and trying scenes a radical new way. Only since September, have I returned to my studio…working in the daylight to finish “Hear and Now.”
I live in an old Victorian house high on a hill above Portland with my husband, Matt, my Bernese Mountain Dog, Balu, my cat Mingus, and baby Jonas. What I love most about my house is our big wrap around porch. What I love most about my husband is that he has a very private intellectual life that is very mysterious to me. He’s a neuroscientist, and making this film on my parents made me see just how much he thinks about things that never once occurred to me. After Matt and Jonas, I love to cook. Curries are my specialty.
I’m 36. In addition to filmmaking and running my small production company in Portland, I taught photography and filmmaking to high school and college students for three years. I loved that, and want to return to it again. My family is all from the Deep South: Bible-belt Christians, preachers, and ranchers.
I think my parents’ deafness broke the cultural chain of command in my family. Mom and Dad always did things differently than everyone else, mostly because they were so cut off from the ways and means of the Clan. Instead of going to Jesus Camp with our cousins, Mom and Dad would take us on rafting trips to the Ozarks with a hundred deaf people, their wild kids, their RVs, and lots of marshmallows. Dad always seized professional opportunities that took us far away from our family roots: Berkeley, New York, England. He always said it was just because he “hated the heat of Texas.” But I am sure there was a lot more to it than that.
I was born in St. Louis, grew up in Rochester, NY and England. I moved to New York City to attend NYU in 1988. I moved to Kathmandu after graduating, and had a hard time leaving the Himalayas until 1996, when I finally returned to the U.S. to go to graduate school at Columbia.
From the time my Mom and Dad gave me their old manual Nikon in the late 70s, I always wanted to be a photographer. But in Nepal, I made my first film and I was hooked. Nonfiction narrative was the perfect marriage of The Image with Story.
I worked in NYC for 10 years, producing just about anything that landed in my lap. My learning curve was steep and it felt like I worked with just about every outfit in town.
I moved to Portland in 2002, simply because I wanted to live here. It’s a great town, and it’s becoming a better town for filmmakers every year.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Photography is my first love. I published a book of my photographs from Nepal (“Buddhas in Disguise“) in 1996, and though I haven’t done it professionally since, the camera is as steady as my best friend Mary, and my fat old dog, Balu.
Did you go to film school? Or how did you learn about filmmaking?
I went to NYU, but didn’t graduate from Tisch. I studied Political Science and Journalism at the time, and took many courses at Tisch with my lifelong mentor and Film Hero, Documentarian (and Octogenarian) George Stoney.
After Nepal, I went to the Journalism School at Columbia mostly because I needed an oar to steer the boat upon returning to professional life in the States. I focused mostly on long-form radio journalism because it demanded the most vigorous writing and imagination. For a girl who loves pictures as much as I do, radio was the ultimate creative challenge.
How did you finance your own film?
I spent my own cash (and credit, of course) and then 6 months into the project, once I realized I had a real film on my hands, my friends in Portland jump-started some fundraising for me. The band Pink Martini played a benefit concert in a downtown loft, and got 20 grand for me in two hours. That, and a couple thousand here, a few thousand there from doctors and deaf people, got me through the rough cut.
Please tell us about your film, and how did the initial idea come about?
When my parents told me they were going to get cochlear implants – at age 65 – I was totally shocked, and frankly thought they’d change their mind before the year was out. But I failed to appreciate how single minded they both are. This was an adventure they set their mind to.
I responded as a daughter for about five minutes, and then the filmmaker wheels started turning. My instinct was to document the whole journey. And when Dad gave me a steel box filled with old 8mm film reels dating back to the 1940s, I knew I had to make more than a document — I had to make a film.
When I set out to make a 25 minute trailer for fundraising, my initial goal was not to tell a complete story…but to make people fall in love with my parents. I know that’s not exactly a creatively noble thing to do, but it worked. It worked because (and here comes the schmaltz) I poured immense love and admiration for my Mother and my Father onto the screen. The result was much more a love story than about two people who get cochlear implants. The love story is not only theirs; it’s also a life-long letter home, from me to them.
I have come to admire many of my doc subjects over the years, but no project has ever been as heartfelt as this one.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
My biggest fear was the film would just fizzle out and that my family would think I was being flaky. I didn’t really care if the doctors, the hospitals, the deaf friends, involved didn’t believe the film would come to fruition: it was really my family I was most afraid of.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, and what are your own goals for the experience?
After John Cooper called me in the middle of spooning my son more sweet potatoes, I hung up the phone, ‘whooped!’ and then just started to cry. At that moment, I was most happy for my parents. Why? Because I believe that the festival is a chance to show the world, well, just how fucking fantastic they are. This isn’t exactly their life story–but it’s close to it. And it really sheds light on how the World of the Hearing perceives them. I think by the end of the film, they’re not two deaf people… they’re just two people, whose marriage has stood many tests–including this most recent, and most profound, one… the ability–finally–to hear sound after living, communicating, and relating to each other, in silence for so long.
There are a lot of political implications surrounding the film, regarding their choice to get the cochlear implants. But I’ve never been focused on that. I do hope, however, that this film opens more dialogue within the deaf community about implants. Finally, deaf people can ask, “Is this really a threat to who we are?” In my parents’ case, they eventually “came home” to their deafness. They toyed with sound, but it didn’t radically change who they are. In addition to the story of their relationship, the film is a poetic on the nature of sound, and how subjective our senses really are.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
Independent film is any film project that you plow ahead with, regardless of who likes it, who’s funding it, and where it may end up.
Get the latest coverage of Park City ’07 in indieWIRE’s special section here at indieWIRE.com