I think I thought it would be easier than it was,” confesses Irene Taylor Brodsky about her new documentary ‘Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.” The Emmy-winning filmmaker had already made a Peabody Award-winning film about her deaf parents, 2007’s “Hear and Now.” But her new film tackles not only her parents but also her deaf son, a premise that created unique challenges for Brodksy. As she explains in our exclusive video interview (watch the video above), “This time I’m the daughter of my subjects and also the mother of my subject.”
The idea for the film originated with Brodsky’s son Jonas wanting to learn Beethoven’s classic “Moonlight Sonata.” The film begins by chronicling Jonas’s early hearing loss as well as the surgical installation of a cochlear implant which allows him some level of hearing. As Jonas struggles to learn the complicated piece, Brodsky expands the narrative to include her deaf parents, particularly her father, who is diagnosed as being in the early stages of dementia. Being both the daughter and mother of her subjects put her in a particularly vulnerable position. Primarily I’m functioning as a filmmaker. My duty to my audience is to function as a filmmaker” she explains. “Maybe you could say my gift to the audience is being vulnerable and being this boy’s mother and these two people’s daughter.”
As a daughter, Brodsky got to witness her father’s decline first hand and saw a unique connection between her father and Beethoven. Unlike Beethoven, who gradually lost his hearing, her father was born deaf but was gradually losing his mental faculties. “My father started to lose something, something that he’d always had, which was his intellect and his mind,” Brodsky says. “I realized that this could be a window into maybe what Beethoven might have felt…when he realized that he was losing his hearing.”
Ultimately, Brodsky sees her film as being more than just a story about deafness within a family. She explains that the film is relevant to any family, but that there is a unique message about people with disabilities. “We think of deafness often as hearing loss,” Brodsky says. “But I think in the case of Beethoven– and I have come to see in the case of my deaf parents and my deaf son– they’re the people they are not in spite of their deafness, but because of their deafness.”
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