Sound and Fury
dir. Josh Aronson
Opens Fri March 9 at the Varsity.

"Sound and Fury" is a 1999 documentary about the battle over cochlear implants within the Deaf community. At the center of the battle is six-year-old Heather Artinian, "culturally Deaf" (i.e., viewing deafness as a cultural identity rather than a handicap) like her two brothers and both of her parents. Heather expresses the desire for a cochlear implant, and thus sets in motion a cascade of ethical dilemmas concerning Deaf versus hearing culture and the rights of parents over children.

Paralleling Heather's predicament is the contrasting story of her baby cousin Peter, born deaf to hearing parents and slated for a cochlear implant at the earliest possibility. Further complicating the interrelationships of the hearing and deaf are the two sets of grandparents, one hearing and one deaf, who appear throughout the film.

I invited Terry Dockter, culturally Deaf, and Echo, who received a cochlear implant last August, to attend the film with me and comment on it. Brad Gallaway and Nancy Wickward interpreted.

What did you think of the film?

TERRY: I think the film was very well executed. At the end, when they were going through the credits, I saw a bunch of names of Deaf people I know in there as consultants. It seems like they had the right seed to make that movie.

ECHO: Yeah, it was really well-balanced overall. They could have shown more of the medical side to implants, but in terms of the issues, the moral issues, I think the film was perfectly balanced. It didn't come down on the side of implants or of Deaf culture.

Did you identify with some of the characters in the film more than others?

ECHO: I feel I can identify with all of them. I do understand both sides, but I think there are certain choices for certain people; it just depends. My decision to get implanted was based on my needs. I don't criticize the one family for deciding not to go ahead with the implant, but I don't necessarily support the other family for doing it, either.

TERRY: The issue really seemed to me to be that some of them didn't understand the Deaf world at all, especially the hearing parents, and the grandmother and grandfather. [Heather's hearing grandmother aggressively pushes for Heather to get an implant.] The Deaf parents visited the cochlear implant center, visited other Deaf families, and let [Heather] make the decision herself. At least they made an effort to see the other side; at least they saw what they had to offer on both sides. How different from the grandma--she seemed almost like a Bible-thumper to me; she was so set in her ways of seeing deafness as something below hearing.

The film stated at one point that "The whole Deaf world is changing under the influence of implants." Do you agree?

TERRY: I kind of disagree. When you take the whole world, it's obvious that sign language is always gonna be there. But it is a big issue, because we really cherish Deaf culture; we really value it.

What are some of the things you value in Deaf culture?

TERRY: Close contact. The humanity of it. The visual language, of course. People who use their ears--their visual acuity goes down. People using cell phones, for example: They put that thing up to their ears, and their eyes glaze over; they get this kind of blank look on their face; their brains get sort of disconnected. Deaf culture, on the other hand, is very visual, totally visual. We see everything that happens.

Echo, do you cherish Deaf culture? Are you afraid of losing it with your implant?

ECHO: To be honest I haven't had a lot of exposure to Deaf culture. I grew up with hearing parents, and went to a mainstream public school.... So I guess I don't know so much how Deaf culture is changing, 'cause I'm kind of outside of that community. I mean, I still have a lot of Deaf friends, and enjoy socializing within the community, but I definitely live in both worlds.

Do you feel limited by your deafness?

ECHO: I do feel limited in the hearing world. I didn't before, because I did well in school, and I worked a lot with other hearing people. I felt like I could do anything they could do. But now that I have more interest in working and starting a career, I've been running into some limitations that are keeping me from advancing to where I want to be. That is one of the reasons I chose to get the implant, to offer me more opportunity in a career where I will have to communicate with hearing people on a daily basis.

How about you, Terry?

TERRY: Not once in my lifetime have I felt limited. Not one bit. It's because I had plenty of resources available to me in the Deaf world; a lot of things I could take advantage of. Maybe that's one reason I felt secure.

My thanks to the Seattle Community Service Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (322-5551) for helping to arrange this interview.