See What I’m Saying, an involving new documentary by Hilari Scarl, uncovers an interesting entertainment subculture of deaf comedians, actors, and musicians. The film follows actor C.J. Jones, comedian Robert DeMayo, drummer Bob Hiltermann, and punk-rock throwback T.L., as they strive for acknowledgment from hearing, as well as hearing-impaired communities. Scarl shapes these four stories into a well-oiled showbiz narrative, complete with a clearly demarcated three-act structure that moves conventionally from setup to setback to a final payoff in the form of the big show. The proceedings become a little predictable under this structure, and Scarl relies too heavily on music for emotional cues—an ironic misstep for a documentary about and partially made for the hearing-impaired. But to her credit, and the credit of the featured performers, See What I’m Saying creates genuine empathy for its heroes. Their struggle becomes not just about translating deaf culture to a hearing audience but about the problems any artist faces on the road to being seen and heard. Most valuably, at its heart, See What I’m Saying strikes at the nature of communication itself. When DeMayo delivers a passionately signed, nearly silent speech about the distance his disability created between him and his mother, the film finds its emotional core. Much of the music and comedy translates as well, which is really just as important to reaching a wider audience.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2010