- Sian Heder unexpectedly won one of the hottest figurines at this year’s Academy Awards. She herself was awarded for an adapted screenplay, and as director of the film “CODA” she received an Oscar for Best Picture.
- Héder hasn’t been a “hot” name in the industry just yet. Her career took off at Sundance in 2021.
- The screenwriter and director recalls working with deaf people in the movie “CODA”. She asserts, “It was clear to me that I had to learn sign language if I wanted to work well with the actors.”
- She reveals that she worked with private consultants on the group. Heder states that she didn’t understand at first that deaf people would arrange their furniture very differently than people with hearing
- More reviews of movies and series can be found on the main website of Onet
Almost no one had heard of Sian Heder before this year’s Oscar night. Her first name is Welch (her mother is a Welsh sculptor) and her surname is Hungarian (her father is a Hungarian urban planner). Heder was born 44 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second movie “CODA” was shown a year ago in Sundance. Then it caught the attention of the streaming platform Apple, which decided to buy it for $25 million. Before Apple got into the game, the movie made its own way – adventures.
“Die Welt”: You can read online that your film has already won 59 awards and 133 nominations. It all started at Sundance in January 2021.
Sian Heder: Yes, Sundance was a surreal experience. The festival was held online through COVID-19. I participated in it in my first movie “Taloula”. I knew Sundance was a great place and you get such amazing energy for the audience there. And that year, I was sitting on the sofa with my husband and kids. I didn’t go around with people in the industry, just on the phone explaining to my parents how to go to the location to see the movie “CODA”.
And something happened that hadn’t happened before. Your film has won four Sundance Awards, including an International Jury Prize.
It was overwhelming! What I liked about Sundance in 2021 was the fact that the festival wasn’t exclusive. Usually, representatives of the film industry gather in the snowy landscape, and the stars are there as well. The festival was watched this year by my parents, their friends or the great Italian fisherman family whose film we shot on their boat. It was more democratic. You can share these videos and talk about them afterwards.
Technically, “CODA” is a French film remake…
…yes, technically speaking, you could say that. I’m talking about “Do You Understanding the Bèliers?” , which was previously filmed, but I did not pay attention to it. I was more interested in the story itself. When I first saw him, he impressed me a lot, but I also thought that it would be possible to “squeeze” more from him. It was a missed opportunity. So I decided to create my own version and didn’t even look at the French script. I drew on the feelings that lingered in me after the show and worked on the rest in myself.
I took the work personally.
exactly. I wanted to make this movie in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the same fishing village where I spent my summer vacation as a kid. I know this neighborhood. I know how it looks and smells there. It was very important to me – that everything you see looks real.
Your film is different from the French film of 2014. The deaf characters in your film are not played by hearing people.
I definitely don’t want that! My intention was to introduce deaf viewers to the world of deaf people, and I definitely needed deaf actors for that. “CODA” is an acronym that describes a hearing child who was raised in a deaf family. How am I supposed to talk about this feeling when all the actors hear it? It seemed out of place to me.
On the one hand, your film is interesting and interesting, but on the other – it plunges deeply into the world of the deaf.
in their culture; Yes, it was important for me to show that. We are not dealing here with people with disabilities who want to belong in our world. These people created their own culture. Let’s go back to Pele for a moment. Hearing people play deaf people in film, it often has to do with learning their own language – sign language. but that is not all. Sure, language is in the spotlight, but the identity of the deaf is developing everywhere. How deaf people sit together at the table and eat, say hello, say goodbye and communicate with each other.
I never thought you could swear so much in this language.
[Śmiech] But why not? Another bias. The world is full of prejudices. Especially the main actor Troy Kotsur He knows a lot of curses. Many of them can be seen in the movie.
What do we not know about the world of the deaf?
a lot of things. I don’t even know where to start. Take a party, for example. If the movie showed deaf people leaving the party, deaf people would only laugh about it. There is even the term “silent farewell”. Saying goodbye can take a long time. Precisely because you cannot say goodbye to the room, you have to go to each guest and say goodbye. I didn’t just include deaf actors in the movie – I also had a lot of consultants behind the scenes so I wouldn’t make any mistakes.
Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marley Matlin and Daniel Durant in “CODA”
What else could happen?
For example, I had a furnished room that was supposed to “play” the living room. When we were about to finish, my advisor came up to me and said it wouldn’t work that way. No deaf family would ever put a sofa like this one. In any case, it should be positioned so that you can observe the door. Because if I couldn’t hear anything, I had to sit with my back to the door. I’ve always loved calling advisors with my “silent eyes”. I learned a lot from her.
In your movie, when the deaf speak, you have to read the dialogues. No other solution would be possible. How important is sound in a movie that your actors don’t hear?
The sound was very important to me. When I was writing the script for the movie, I quickly realized it was going to be 40 percent. Based on deaf conversations. Usually – when the world of hearing meets the world of the deaf in the movies – the hearing says what the deaf show. I definitely don’t want that! When the deaf speak, they do so differently from the dumb. I wanted to clear up this stereotype. That’s why you hear your hands hitting something. You can hear the rustle of the fabrics. People also make sounds when they talk. All this should not be underestimated.
When deaf people talk, the music in your movie is rarely heard.
exactly! We noticed that when we have verbal dialogue, music can have a reinforcing effect. In the case of sign language, it is completely different. Music instantly becomes dominant and goes in a direction we never wanted. There would be some kind of synthetic in it that I wanted to deal with in my film.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency in movies these days to use a lot of music. Often with the argument the viewer needs.
Nonsense! Fortunately, no one who worked with me asked for it. I wanted to hear people immerse themselves in the world of the deaf. It also means that you put up with such scenes when two people are speaking in sign language. For us to hear, that’s pretty cool. But it must be so. Don’t let anyone who sees Koda say later that we’re somehow romanticizing the deaf world. But since we are talking about music: we do not do without it completely. It would be funny to think that my movie is about a young woman who wants to be a singer.
In the end, there comes a point where people sing and your actors don’t hear a thing. And we, as viewers, don’t hear anything either.
Interesting that you mentioned this scene. Because I talked to audio experts about exactly the same thing. They really believed that if we took the music off the stage, at least some of the sound, some notes, should remain. As a privilege to viewers. I didn’t want this. This should be exactly what the actors hear. string! And if it’s uncomfortable for us as viewers, we can ask ourselves what it can be like when we don’t hear anything. This experience is difficult to convey. But I think at some points in the movie we were able to do it really well.
How are deaf people generally presented in the film?
During my research, I quickly noticed that there are very few strong deaf characters in the movies. Even if we look at Marley Matlin in “The Younger Sons of God,” there are things that seem outdated or completely inaccurate from today’s perspective. On TV, you can find some examples that go deeper into this world. But only a little. When I was working on the script, I immediately found a lot of emotion in the deaf world. They wanted to help me avoid clichés, tell me about a real family and its problems. I gladly accepted this help.
How did you find your reps?
Marley Matlin was the first person I asked if she was interested and if she had time. And when she said yes, many doors suddenly opened. Some of the actors have known each other before and played together. So my cast grew step by step. Finally we became friends.
The cast of “CODA” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Left to Right: Eugenio Derbez, Sian Heder, Marley Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Emilia Jones, Daniel Durant and Amy Forsyth
How did you communicate?
Of course with sign language! It was clear to me that I had to learn the language if I wanted to work well with the actors. So when I mention in interviews from time to time that this movie changed my life, it’s so much more than just cliched. I was introduced to a whole new truth and I can only advise everyone not to be afraid to approach such strange worlds. You will learn from this. he deserves it!
When you think of pictures, what surprised you the most?
There is a scene at the end. We didn’t have a sign language interpreter that day. So it relied on what was played. But Marley and Troy didn’t talk about the lines she made. In a very complicated environment, they suddenly started talking about eating spaghetti later. It was completely impromptu. When I saw this scene in the editing room, I laughed a lot. Simply because it was so much better than I could have imagined. It wouldn’t have happened if I understood everything immediately after turning it on. But then the movie would be a much poorer beautiful scene!
There is a moment in your film that I find very brave. I sang the classic Joni Mitchell song “Both Sides Now” and immediately thought: This song belongs on “Love Actually” when Emma Thompson cries for the love of Alan Rickman!
Oh, I love this movie moment too – one forever. You know, when Joni Mitchell first recorded this song, she said it would be the end of her childhood. It matches perfectly with our sapphire. Soon, she will realize her dream and enroll in university. To do this, however, he must leave his deaf family, which they, in turn, consider treason. Joni Mitchell re-recorded the song later, and you can hear the wounds she’s had in her life. I was amazed that one song could sound so different. And that’s why I really wanted to appear in the movie. Ours is a version of a young Johnny who looks at life with hope.
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