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Interview with Irene Taylor Brodsky

Irene Taylor Brodsky interview

HBO

This is a very personal film. What inspired you to make it?

Irene Taylor Brodsky

I think somewhere deep in my gut I always knew I wanted to tell the story of my parents' life, and I say "life" because in a way, their two lives are one life because to me they're so inseparable. They've been married for over 45 years. Our upbringing with deaf parents was somewhat unorthodox, so I think part of me did start to understand that they had a very special story. But I didn't really have the impetus to tell it until a few years ago when they told me they were going to get cochlear implants.

I was very surprised, but once I got over the initial shock, I realized this was a good chance to turn the camera on them finally. So I think the cochlear implants were just an excuse and a narrative tool to tell a love story. And that story was of two deaf people in love, coming of age in a very difficult time for people who were deaf.

HBO

Initially, you had concerns about the operation, and what their "new world" would be like.

I think the cochlear implants were just an excuse and a narrative tool to tell a love story.

Irene Taylor Brodsky

Well, I think the selfish part of me wondered what it would mean for me, and a certain identity I always had as the daughter of two deaf parents. So I wondered what it would mean for our family dynamic.

The more transcendent thoughts, I guess you could say, had to do with what this would mean for the way my parents digest the world around them. I was worried that it might upset an equilibrium they had worked so hard to achieve. They were already well adjusted to their deafness. This operation was going to force them to start all over again.

I wondered, would they both react the same way? Would they both like it? Would one of them do well and the other not so well? And what would that do not only to their dynamic as a married couple but the way they relate to the world around them? I was worried it all might be too unsettling.

But ultimately I didn't need to worry about them because they're just not worrying kind of people. If they were, they would have let their deafness get the better of them a long time ago.

HBO

Where are things now with each of them?

Irene Taylor Brodsky

Although they do connect with the aural world around them much, much more than they did before, they still have to lip read to communicate. And I think that's a very fundamental similarity to their lives before the surgery. As much as things have changed, the most defining thing that's remained the same is that they still need to look at you in order to have a conversation with you.

They never asked me to turn off the camera. So it's like you're just sitting in their living room with them, following them through a day in their new life together.

HBO

When your parents started to communicate their experience of hearing, what were some of their first impressions?

Irene Taylor Brodsky

Well, my father has a great moment in the film when the audiologist asks him what his very first sound sounds like. And my father looks at him, he pauses, and then he says, "Well, what does color look like? How do you describe what red looks like?" So this reminds us how relative sound is, that it's a relationship with our brain rather than a fixed constant. It's important to us because of what it means to us. And so for my father, what he initially heard was just a sound. It had no context - no meaning - whatsoever because he hadn't heard it in that way before.

I think the same can be said for my mom hearing music. My mom always had a very strong connection to music, and I think it's because she had two music-minded parents. She was raised in a very musical household and grew up with the vibrations of rhythm and beat. So, her desire to hear music was a huge part of her motivation to get the implant. At 65, she had already become a very musical person, but music to her was literally a feeling, it was a touch, a vibration. Those experiences sparked her emotional response to music. When she finally heard music, it was so different. It didn't have that same resonance as before. Even now, she still prefers to feel sound and feel music.

HBO

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

Irene Taylor Brodsky

This film is not simply about cochlear implantation. Superficially it's about that. But I hope people take away a sense of intimacy, that seeing these two lives they feel a sense of privilege to be a fly on the wall because these two people really gave me the greatest access a filmmaker could ever ask for.

They never asked me to turn off the camera. So it's like you're just sitting in their living room with them, following them through a day in their new life together. I hope audiences can just take away a certain intimacy for two people in love because at its heart this film is really a love story. That's what I get out of it, and I hope that's what others can too.

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