The documentary that won the hearts of the audience in IDFA, the world’s largest documentary film festival, ‘Deaf Child’ is a coming of age film by Alex de Ronde in which he portrays the life of his son, a charismatic young man who happens to be deaf. The film follows Tobias from the cradle to the present day through archive material and other personal footage.
Tobias lives in two worlds: one in need, the other as a fish in the water. Archive footage shows how the little Tobias learned how to talk a little through endless speech therapy sessions, but also him having the time of his life in a Swiss cable car or in Disneyland Paris – all getting by without speech.
At present, a visit to the dentist is still quite a chore in communication, but when he strolls the grounds of Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. – the only deaf university in the world– he exudes confidence and vitality. There, he is a regular person. He connects the two worlds as a teacher of Dutch sign language to non-deaf students, introducing them to its culture. His lust for life is infectious and he has no self-pity and expects no sympathy from anyone.
The director’s approach is also twofold; as an understanding observer and as a critical loving father. He questions Tobias about his life; about the past, what he remembers of his deceased mother, about the present and the role he and his brother Joachim play in his life.
Deaf Child is about a family who in the face of adversity retain a deep respect for each other and care for each other’s wellbeing. The three men display a bond that is touching.
As a father, Alex examines his choices in raising a deaf child. Were they the right ones? Is his world not too limited? Should he have tried cochlear implants with which Tobias might have had partial hearing? Has he overburdened Joachim too much with his brother’s handicap? And ultimately, was he a good father?
The film makes abundantly clear that Tobias is a vivacious, charming young man who refuses to let his disability hinder him. He embraces his future, culture and language wearing his deafness as a badge of honor. It seems he has made his choice. In the end as Alex de Ronde puts it, “it is a film about love”.