Do people have a “right” to remain deaf? And should that right be deemed as important as the rights of any religious or ethnic minority? Should the hearing-impaired be allowed to refuse medical treatment that might enable their deaf children to hear? Is there such a thing as a “deaf culture,” and is it really worth preserving? Those are the provocative questions that propel “Sound and Fury,” a fascinating and sometimes infuriating documentary from the vet nonfiction team of director Josh Aronson (Discovery Channel’s “Outward Bound”) and producer Roger Weisberg (“Road Scholar”). Pic seems best suited to fest and edutube venues, but merits at least limited theatrical exposure.
While focusing on the Artinian family of Glen Cove, N.Y., the filmmakers find a microcosm for opposing points of view in the ongoing debate over cochlear implants, a medical technology that can, in many cases, “cure” deafness. Most view the innovation as a modern-day miracle. But several outspoken deaf people condemn the implants as unwanted intrusions on their way of life.
For Chris and Mari Artinian, the hearing parents of a deaf baby, the decision is relatively simple: They want the best for their child, so they agree to have him surgically fitted with cochlear implants. But their actions anger many of their deaf friends and relatives.
Peter Artinian, Chris’ brother, is particularly fervent in his denouncement of cochlear technology. Peter is deaf, as are his wife and their three children, and he insists that he wouldn’t have it any other way. “If somebody gave me a pill that could make me hear,” he claims, his rapid-fire fingers communicating through American Sign Language, “I would throw it up.”
Not surprisingly, he’s none too thrilled when his young daughter expresses an interest in implants. And so, in order to save his family from what he sees as bad influences, he moves to a community in Maryland where he knows he’ll be surrounded by like-minded hearing-impaired folks.
The filmmakers bend over backward to be fair and nonjudgmental while allowing equal time to both sides. Gradually, however, Peter emerges as a bullheaded fanatic who sounds misguided at best — and dangerous at worst — as he rages against any perceived threat to deaf culture.
At one point, Peter and his family attend a picnic where other folks of similar persuasion claim implants will turn their children into Frankenstein-like freaks. Worse, they complain, the day may come when no one is deaf anymore. That, of course, is the whole point of scientific advances aimed at restoring hearing. But that’s just one of many things that Peter doesn’t want to hear.
“If I didn’t know you,” Peter’s father tells his deaf son during one of the many family squabbles the docu records, “I would say you are an abusive parent.” Those are strong words, to be sure. But they resound with the ring of truth. Pic doesn’t confront the matter head-on, but strongly suggests that Peter convinces his daughter to change her mind about wanting the cochlear treatment because he doesn’t want to lose her to a hearing world.Filmed over a two-year period, “Sound and Fury” is remarkably effective at getting up-close and personal with its subjects. Whether they’re addressing the camera — sign language is translated by voiceover performers — or acrimoniously trading accusations and insults, the Artinians and the people in their orbit are almost aggressively uninhibited. Beyond all the sound and fury, however, serious issues receive intelligent consideration in a technically polished package.