Director's Take - By Josh Aronson
SOUND AND FURY was a film that found me. I'd been directing, commercials, rock videos and television shows for 10 years but I wanted to make a feature length documentary film and was searching for a subject that would totally engage me. I happened to meet a deaf woman who had just gotten a cochlear implant and she proudly reported that she could talk on the phone for the first time in 30 years. That was certainly dazzling, but when she told me her deaf friends of 20 years had rejected her after she got the implant - that very real human drama grabbed me.
After 6 months of research I started shooting a documentary about the cochlear implant as the climax of the 250 year old battle between deaf people who lip read and speak and those who sign. As I got deeper into the film I realized my life would be a lot easier working with an experienced producer. I began looking around and when I showed footage to Roger Weisberg he loved the story and agreed to sign on as Producer. Roger had made many documentaries for television but his film ROAD SCHOLAR, had a terrific theatrical life as well, which was something I wanted for SOUND AND FURY. Roger and I worked well together and it was great having another filmmaker to brainstorm with.
I had originally intended the film to include 5 deaf individuals each representing a different identity choice within the deaf experience; the range included signing deaf people who cherished their deafness and wouldn't become hearing even if they could, people who hated being deaf and would do anything to overcome their communication limitations, and people who were taught to live orally but who found life in the hearing world so frustrating that they switched into the signing deaf world. It was also important to depict the painful struggle that parents face as they confront identity choices for their deaf children. When we found the Artinians we hit pay dirt. Here were 2 families headed by 2 brothers that had deafness running through 3 generations. We filmed for a year and a half as the families struggled with dramatically different choices about how to raise their deaf children. It became clear that the Artinians' battle over the implant was a perfect reflection of the controversy we'd been filming all over America and theirs was the story of SOUND AND FURY.
Shooting scenes with signing deaf people is a unique challenge. I took some sign classes during production but like any language it takes a long time to become fluent so during interviews I needed a sign interpreter next to me to sign my questions to the subject. We needed to hear what the signers were saying on set so in addition we had another interpreter watching a monitor from another room speak an instantaneous English interpretation. This translation was fed to our headphones and recorded on one channel. Of course, our sound recordist was always on set recording ambient sound on channel 2. Sometimes this system took on wild proportions as we filmed groups of signers and had several interpreters speaking for different subjects. In some cases it was hard to know who was saying what so the cameraman often had to fly blind. After filming the most complex of these scenes - 15 native signers with hands flying across a table ñ I remember gulping and thinking how tricky the editing of this scene would be. It turned out to be an important one.
All of these "scratch" translations were scrutinized on a vhs dub by Jackie Roth, our native-signing Production Coordinator, who filled in the interpretation and corrected errors and omissions that are impossible to avoid in a simultaneous translation. Jackie's re-interpretation was a guide for editing but ultimately Jackie and a second interpreter re-checked every signing scene for accuracy before it was locked.
Even though the intention was always to release SOUND AND FURY with subtitles so deaf people can view it, Roger and I knew early on that we would use voice-overs for the signing characters as well. We didn't want to diminish the emotional power of the signing scenes and knew that voice-overs would keep the audience more engaged than reading subtitles. Also, we wanted to cut away from signing interviews to other images in the same way we do for speaking characters. It would be disorienting to a hearing audience to have subtitles over those scenes. After a year and half with the Artinians, I knew my characters well enough to feel confident that I could interpret their feelings and emotions through an actor's voice. I spent a long time casting these voices to make sure each one was true to the signing people they would voice for.
SOUND AND FURY is a film that delves deeply into the world of the deaf but the issues at stake are universal and my goal from the outset was to make a human drama that would speak equally to all viewers - to make a film that would, in all matters, encourage understanding, tolerance and acceptance of personal choice.
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