SUNDANCE AWARD WINNER HEAR AND NOW, DEBUTING MAY 8 ON HBO, TELLS THE PERSONAL STORY OF TWO PEOPLE WHO JOURNEY INTO A WORLD OF SOUND TOGETHER AFTER SURGERY ENDS 65 YEARS OF SILENCE
A deeply personal memoir by Emmy(r) winner Irene Taylor Brodsky, HEAR AND NOW chronicles her deaf parents’ decision to undergo risky cochlear implant surgery, following their touching journey from a comfortable marriage of silence into a new, complex and challenging world of sound. Winner of an Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the documentary debuts THURSDAY, MAY 8 (8:00-9:30 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: May 8 (5:25 a.m.), 11 (7:30 p.m.), 15 (9:30 a.m., midnight), 19 (2:30 p.m., 10:15 p.m.), 24 (12:30 p.m.) and 27 (6:30 p.m.)
HBO2 playdates: May 10 (6:00 p.m.), 12 (12:30 p.m., 12:10 a.m.) and 18 (11:00 a.m.)
Both age 65 and deaf since birth, husband and wife Paul and Sally Taylor led rich lives filled with jobs, hobbies, passions and the support of a devoted four-generation family, including their own three hearing children. Pioneers in the deaf community, Sally worked as a teacher and a college secretary and lent her expert lip-reading skills to law enforcement investigations, while Paul, an engineer and retired professor, helped develop the TTY, a widely-used telecommunication device for the hearing-impaired.
When the Taylors announced just before retirement that they planned to get cochlear implants – a breakthrough technology that could restore their ability to hear – their decision was met with mixed feelings by their daughter. “After this surgery, who will they be?” she asks. “Will they still be deaf people, or hearing people, or will they be something in between? What if the implant doesn’t work? What if one of them can hear and the other one can’t?”
At its core, HEAR AND NOW is a love story about two people who found one other and grew together in a world of silence, their bond strengthened by the challenges they faced and overcame as a couple. Undertaking the journey together, they cannot foresee the ultimate impact of this change on their relationship, or the emotional and neurological challenges of adapting to a world of sound, especially when one appears to have more success with the procedure and it looks like their paths – so long the same – might diverge.
The film offers fascinating “before-hearing” and “after-hearing” windows into the lives of Paul and Sally Taylor, recounting childhood years learning to communicate in a special school, experiencing the stigma surrounding deafness in mainstream high schools, and overcoming the challenges of being deaf parents of hearing children.
The three-hour operation is seen from a fascinating surgeon’s-eye view, as a tiny computer is placed into a recess carved out of the skull and multi-tentacled silicone transmitters are threaded into the cochlea, like microphone cables leading to a microscopic amplifier.
A month later, they visit their audiologist to have the implants turned on and hear their first sounds. Paul struggles to describe the experience; Sally is speechless with emotion.
HEAR AND NOW explores the psychological dimensions of adapting to the challenges posed by a restored sense of hearing and reveals just how subjective the sense of sound can be. “It’s like a hammer in my head – bang, bang, bang!” Paul says of a flock of geese flying by. Sally, enchanted by her lakefront surroundings in upstate New York, delights in the sound of water gently flowing over rocks and in waves.
Sally stands in a hallway of her home flipping light switches, stroking and patting the walls and flushing the toilet, astounded by the everyday sounds she’s wondered about for years. Like a kid in a candy store, Paul drives to the car wash twice in one day just to experience the strange noises he finds there.
The film raises compelling questions about the ease of obtaining cochlear implant surgery. No psychological evaluations were required of the couple – just medical insurance and proof of a working auditory nerve. Likewise, as people age, the elasticity in the brain tends to decrease, making implant surgery for people 65 or older less than successful in many cases.
In the end, there are highs, such as a family Christmas when Paul winds up on his back playing air guitar to a CD he’s received. There are also lows, like the couple’s follow-up visit to their audiologist, when they discover they cannot hear any of the test words read to them. As time passes, Paul and Sally struggle with their newfound hearing and begin to wonder if it’s better to live in their familiar silent world or face the frustrations of their new, sound-filled one.
HEAR AND NOW is Irene Taylor Brodsky’s first feature-length film. As a producer and cinematographer, she filmed polygamist Alex Joseph and his nine wives in the Utah desert, investigated the fragile state of American health care, followed a fetish clothing designer (HBO’s “Real Sex”) and produced TV documentaries and shorts on subjects ranging from Bollywood to bluegrass music. In 2004, Taylor Brodsky won an Emmy(r) for “The Rural Studio,” her portrait of late architect Samuel Mockbee and his legacy in the American South.
HEAR AND NOW is a film by Irene Taylor Brodsky; supervising editor Geof Bartz, A.C.E.; associate producer, Crofton Diack; senior producer, Eve Epstein; original music, Joel Goodman. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.