Hear and Now



HBO Documentary Films

PARK CITY -- Documentary maker Irene Taylor Brodsky focuses the camera on her own family in "Hear and Now," which tracks her deaf parents' decision to undergo cochlear implant surgery to enable them to hear for the first time.

A 2004 Emmy winner and experienced documentarian for HBO, CBS and A&E, Brodsky departs from typical docu form with extensive personal commentary about Paul and Sally Taylor's experience, creating something of a verite family melodrama. Winner of the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance, it likely will appeal more to those interested in the family dynamics involved in her parents' surgery than the significance of cochlear implants among the deaf. "Hear and Now," produced by HBO Documentary Films for 2008 broadcast, has only slight theatrical potential.

Paul and Sally were both born deaf and met as children while attending the Central Institute for the Deaf before parting to go on to high school and college. They married soon after meeting again as adults and had three hearing children. Paul pursued a career as an engineer, assisting with development of the pioneering TTY communications device for the hearing-impaired, while Sally worked as a teacher.

At age 65, both decided to get cochlear implants, devices that can enable hearing in the deaf by the insertion of an electronic device into the inner ear -- a procedure often found to be controversial in the deaf community. For the Taylors, it's an enormous decision to change their mode of interacting with the world after decades of deafness, but Paul and Sally are both eager to experience the realm of sound and all the possibilities it offers. Hearing ability "might give me more confidence, and with more confidence I could maybe become a more bold person and do things that I would never dream of," Paul says.

Although the surgery transpires without complications, the postimplant phase is more challenging. Both Paul and Sally have trouble distinguishing relevant sounds from background noise and experience significant frustration with the device.

Brodsky follows her parents from the presurgery phase to a year postsurgery, documenting their emotional highs and lows, as well as interviewing close relatives and recording family gatherings. She comments frequently in first-person voice-over, expressing her thoughts and ambivalent feelings regarding her parents' decision. Missing, however, is any meaningful context about either the medical procedure or its significance among the deaf.