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Dead Language Society; Deaf and Out

Saturday 14 April 2012

It’s sad when a really cool idea dies. It’s not clear that Esperanto fits this definition; the film The Universal Language makes the case that it’s not dead, but Lordy, it’s also not prospering the way the founder thought it would, and WWII and the twin dictatorships in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia gave the cause of internationalization of a created language a sharp setback. The images from recent world conferences on Esperanto, and the hopefulness of its adherents, make we want to be a believer, but it’s definitely an uphill battle for the plucky language from Bialystock.

The film itself is fine; not so long as to cause a neutral watcher to lose interest, although there were some sequences with individuals neither speaking Esperanto nor discussing it, just being positioned on camera that made me wonder what the editor’s intent was. There was also a voiceover about dictatorship and social change that I think needs editing for intent.

It’s an okay film, certainly worth sitting through if it’s showing with something else.

The second film in the block is Austin Unbound. This is not a film I was seeking out, but it turned out to be one of the strongest docs so far in tis year’s festival. Austin was born a girl, but knew early on that she was trapped in the wrong gender. This film shows some of her change from a twenty-something woman into a man.

To be more clear, we never see Austin as a woman. In some of the background scenes, there are static photos of her at ages younger than three or so as a girl, but that’s it–in the rest of the film, he appears to all intents and purposes to be male. His original name is never even given; he is only known as Austin.

The main story of the film follows Austin during the process of having his breasts removed; the title refers to the removal of the need, post-surgery, to bind his breasts flat. It doesn’t appear to be a complicated surgery, as we see him waking up very shortly thereafter, on the operating table with the surgeon still in the room.

There is a lot of background in the film about Austin growing up, the lackluster of support by his mother (she was still trying to steer him into lesbianism as late as his teen years instead of supporting his trans-gender self-identification), and how he dressed himself as a boy even from early ages. His friends Lola and Jeff were his mainstays through the process of physically changing genders.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s been deaf from birth?

One of the interesting points of the film is that there is tons of dialogue and music–but all of the dialogue is subtitled, even the parts spoken by the mother and others. All of the audio heard is either background noises, or music. It’s an interesting use of ASL, and works much, much better than trying to integrate ASL into an audible-language production.

Highly recommended, especially if you know someone trans-gendered or deaf.

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