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Behind the scenes of Cannes winner ‘We Hear You’

We Hear You
Filmed entirely during the pandemic, We Hear You – a new documentary on hearing loss – was named the Best Film on Disability at the Cannes World Film Festival.

This not only makes it a candidate for winning the prestigious annual Cannes 2022, it also adds to the film’s existing success at the Montreal Independent Film Festival and The IndieFEST Film Awards.

HearingLikeMe connected with Shari Eberts, one of the executive producers as well as one of the four women featured in the film, to learn more about this successful documentary, which will air today during the the ‘We Hear You | Now Hear Us’ exclusive Talkback Zoom event. 

Register here to join the ‘We Hear You | Now Hear Us’ exclusive Talkback Zoom event to be hosted by the Hearing Loss Association of America today, October 28. You can watch the film ahead of the event here. If will also be available on-demand afterwards on Vimeo.

Making a film during the pandemic

The pandemic, as We Hear You says, had a two-pronged effect for the hard of hearing: It necessitated masks, which made lipreading virtually impossible. it also brought people with similar issues closer together.

The website outlines the film thusly: “We Hear You is a groundbreaking one-hour documentary about hearing loss, the invisible disability that impacts 430 million people worldwide, including 48 million in the United States alone. By shining a light on the hearing loss experience, it strives to build awareness, community and a more inclusive world for all.”

Read more: The Reality of Listening Fatigue in a World of Masks

Interview with Shari Eberts

HLM: How did the idea for this film project come about?

Shari Eberts: When the pandemic hit, people with hearing loss felt increasingly isolated. Roxana Rotundo wanted to help keep the community connected. [She] came up with the idea of hosting virtual meetings for the community and asked Holly and me to host them with her. The first meeting was a bit of a test as we all learned to use Zoom. By popular demand, we held a second. And a third, and many more. They were well-attended, regularly attracting 500+ people.

Given her business expertise in filmmaking and content distribution, Roxana saw the potential to turn the meetings into something more – a documentary that would share some of the incredible stories we had heard during the virtual meetings and help raise broader awareness about hearing loss in the mainstream. She asked Holly and me to join her in this new venture, and We Hear You was born.

HLM: The film follows four women’s stories. What are the similarities they share? How do they differ? What brought you together?

Eberts: All four have faced the challenges of living with hearing loss, although each in their individual ways. While the ups and downs are different for each, they share a positive attitude and a willingness to look past the stigma of hearing loss while facing their own vulnerabilities. They are also united by their desire to make a positive difference for people with hearing loss through a variety of advocacy efforts.

The four of us met through Hearing Loss Association of America. Roxana and I sit on the national board. Toni is an alumni of the national board, and Holly serves on the HLAA-New York City chapter board.

HLM: What are your goals for the film? What do you wish for viewers (both hearing and non-hearing) to learn?

Eberts: Our film has two primary goals. The first is to bring the hearing loss community together. We hope the film will help people with hearing loss to feel less alone in their struggles. We also want to provide information, support and role models for people new to hearing loss as well as representation for people who have been living with it for some time.

Our second goal is to raise awareness about hearing loss in the mainstream, where hearing loss is not well understood. Mainstream media often focuses more on the Deaf experience, featuring stories about people who use sign language to communicate. But the vast majority of people with hearing loss do not sign. We wanted to shine a light on that experience – the large gray space between hearing and deafness. Because nothing of this kind exists in the marketplace today, we feel it fills an important need.

Read more: Top moments for deaf talent in 2020 

HLM: Tell us more about how you view hard of hearing and deafness differently – in a cinematic context as well as lived experience.

Eberts: Hearing loss encompasses a wide spectrum of experiences, and each one of them is valid and beautiful. On one end of the spectrum are people in the Deaf community. They wear their Deafness with pride and use sign language as their primary language. On the other end of the spectrum are people who have typical hearing. The vast majority of people with hearing loss reside in between these two experiences, using a combination of residual hearing and technology to communicate in the hearing world. This type of hearing loss is often invisible – because people are not signing – so it is easy to overlook. This is where we wanted to shine our light so we could help raise awareness about this more typical experience as well.

“Hearing loss encompasses a wide spectrum of experiences, and each one of them is valid and beautiful.”

HLM: Of late we’ve seen several fiction films around the subject of hearing loss. Was there a motive behind you choosing the documentary path?

Eberts: We appreciate the attention that hearing loss has been getting in film recently, although with fiction, the focus is primarily on entertaining, so often there is misinformation that is included. We chose the documentary format because our primary goal is to share accurate information about the lived hearing loss experience. In addition, our documentary was filmed entirely during the pandemic lockdown. The interview style was the only one that would work in this context.

HLM: How was it to shoot during the pandemic? Any specific challenges you encountered that you’d like to share?

Eberts: Shooting during the pandemic was challenging, but also a lot of fun! The whole documentary was filmed using only two iPhones to achieve two different camera angles and an Android phone inside our shirts for sound. We didn’t have much experience with filming, so we had the experts (our director and sound engineer) Zoom in from Argentina to guide us.

We had some hilarious moments. It took us an hour to set up the first interview because we hadn’t realized that the tripod we were using had a lever that would allow us to easily shift the height and angle of the camera. Instead we had been trying to adjust the legs of the tripod itself – pretty challenging, especially on uneven ground. It’s a good thing our director was very patient and by the next shoot we did much better.

HLM: What are the challenges a person with hearing loss might face while seeking work/working in the film industry? Especially documentaries, which are often interview-driven?

Eberts: Hearing loss is a big challenge in the film industry, particularly on set. In many cases, communication from the director or within the film crew occurs via earpieces or headphones that may be challenging for people with hearing loss to use. Many people with hearing loss in the field have been forced to take up alternative work, because there are rarely any accommodations available for people with hearing loss.

While there are still challenges, the interview format of a documentary lends itself well to people with hearing loss, because questions can be repeated if necessary or written down. The repetition can be edited out of the final version in post-production.

Watch: ‘We Hear You’

Register here to join the ‘We Hear You | Now Hear Us’ exclusive Talkback Zoom event to be hosted by the Hearing Loss Association of America today, October 28. You can watch the film ahead of the event here. If will also be available on-demand afterwards on Vimeo.

For further updates on We Hear You and Shari Eberts’ personal reflections on hearing loss, follow her on her blog Living With Hearing Loss.

Author Details
Mineli is an India-based writer with unilateral hearing loss and multilateral appreciation for all things silent. She’s a content writer by the day and a poet by night, and whenever there’s a moment free between the two, she takes off to the nearest forest for a quiet chat with the birds.