By Kyra Lisse || Contributing Writer
The scene opens to an adolescent boy, his face framed with curls, lying on his side atop a kitchen table. It is old family footage, dated 1991. The boy tilts his head and smiles. He holds his gaze there for a moment, curiously eyeing the lens that watches him. The scene closes; his beaming image fades. We don’t know it yet, but this short clip is a harbinger of the next seventy-five minutes. It’s preparing us for an experience that, much like a home movie, will leave us charmed and touched.
The Sign for Love (2017)* is an award-winning documentary by Israeli filmmakers Elad Cohen and Iris Ben Moshe. The film follows Elad, a deaf, gay man, as he and his friend Yaeli, a deaf, gay woman, undergo the trials of raising a child together. The story comments not only on the flexible nature of parenthood, but also on the complexity of communication and community. In the same breath it sheds light on issues of disability, sexuality, family, nationality, and identity—all of it tied up in one profoundly intimate, funny, heartwarming package.
Thanks to the hard work of an army of sponsors (Judaic Studies; Klehr Center for Jewish Life; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; English; Alice Drum Women’s Center; Sexuality and Gender Alliance; and Office of Student Accessibility Services), F&M had the privilege of welcoming Cohen and Ben Moshe to campus last week. On the evening of February 14, the two DeRoy Jewish Artists in Residence graced the College with a screening of their documentary, which drew a crowd of students, faculty, and community members alike. Professor Marco Di Giulio (Hebrew, Italian, Judaic Studies) facilitated the event. Following the screening was a panel led by Professor Meg Day (English), Professor Ashley Rondini (Sociology), and E Marcovitz (‘20). The evening closed with a Q&A with the audience.
“All films [involving deafness] are about how [hearing people] make deaf people more hearing,” Cohen signed, explaining his vision for the project. “This was the best way to express my world to hearing people.”
Cohen has since had a second child with Yaeli. Both children can hear and are learning to speak Hebrew and Israeli Sign Language (ISL). One of the greatest challenges of a deaf-hearing household? “Music,” Cohen offers. “I want them to have that experience.”
He is also quick to point out how fatherhood has changed him. He notes that, because of his kids, he no longer hesitates to sign in public. He hopes that the openness of the act will make them feel at home, safe.
“People stare,” Cohen signs, observing the audience with the same intensity as in 1991. This time, however, the scene does not close; his image does not fade. It persists with a shrug and two final words:
*Featured in Docaviv 2017 (Audience Award); Sao Paulo International Film Festival – Oct 2017; Sydney Film Festival – June 2018; Pink Apple Film Festival – May 2018; San Francisco Jewish Film Festival – Jul 2018; QFest: The Houston International LGBTQ Film – Jul 2018; Side by Side Film Festival – Oct 2018 (Best Documentary Award); Margaret Mead Film Festival – Oct 2018; Miami Jewish Film Festival – Jan 2019.
First year Kyra Lisse is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.