There’s nothing quite like the frustration of losing audio while watching a TV show, movie, or short film. Sometimes actors turn away from the camera, speak from the corner of their mouths, or have accents that are hard to make sense of. Without the sound or subtitles on, watching a film is a series of blurry ideas that puzzle more than resolve. What if you never heard or understood the final words of your favorite film?
For the deaf community, having subtitles in daily conversation — let alone sound — is not an option. Isn’t it funny how most people take for granted their senses and don’t consider what it would be like to have one sense do the work of another? David Terry Fine’s short film Can You Read My Lips? is a captivating film about lip-reading based on the essay “Seeing at the Speed of Sound” by Rachel Kolb, who narrates and stars in the piece. The short offers the opportunity for viewers to experience what it would be like to try to understand what people are saying with only their sight. Specifically, it forces the viewer to experience the struggle of communicating by way of lip-reading.
“We wanted to make something immersive that gave people an opportunity to try lip-reading for themselves.”
The piece is as much a collaborative experience for viewers as it was for filmmaker David Terry Fine and writer Rachel Kolb.
David Fine elaborates: “We knew that at the heart of the film was this notion of human connection, and we knew we wanted to make something immersive that gave people an opportunity to try lip-reading for themselves.”
To Rachel Kolb “Can you read my lips?” is a loaded question: “So much of lip-reading relies on factors that are outside of the deaf person’s control: contextual clues, physiognomic features of different individuals’ faces, idiosyncratic mechanisms of how they talk, lighting and environment, or just pure guesswork.” For Rachel — and other people like her — achieving a human connection with others is regularly difficult.
Even more challenging was making a film that was also accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Subtitles are cleverly used in conjunction with audible dialogue for hearing audiences. When the dialogue fades out, so do the subtitles allowing both audiences to attempt understanding the scene with just the visual representation of moving lips.
Achieving a connection with others is one of the most basic things we, as humans, strive for. Rachel Kolb and David Fine hope that viewers will feel that they can find a way to communicate with others regardless of the barriers between them.
David Fine is currently working on a film for ESPN and Rachel Kolb is continuing her essay writing as well as starting a fiction project furthering her investigation surrounding the questions of communication and interaction.