Lindsey Dryden’s feature documentary Lost and Sound has blazed a trail across the world since its premiere at the prestigious SXSW festival in America in March this year. The film is about deafness, the brain, and music, featuring three deaf people and their journey into sound. Lindsey is herself deaf, so we asked her about her life and her work. In roughly that order.
How deaf are you, and what is your own relationship with music like?
I’ve been partially deaf (completely deaf in one ear) since I was three years old. I’ve loved music pretty much obsessively since I can remember — like lots of folks my age I first fell in love with the tapes my parents played on car journeys, and as an adult I struggle to get through a few hours without listening to music. When I love a sound I tend to listen on repeat, like my ear/brain can’t enough…
What inspired your decision to make Lost and Sound?
It was a combination of things – I had to consider my own future with music and hearing, because I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease and that meant I may lose more hearing in future. But I also went to a conference about music and neuroscience (music + science seemed like a pretty awesome weekend to me!), and found some brilliant scientific storytellers, like Dr Katie Overy and Professor Nigel Osborne from Edinburgh University. They really brought their research — about how music works in the brain and body — alive, and I was hooked. Gradually these influences morphed into Lost and Sound.
I joined forces with production company Animal Monday (my background is in docs for Channel 4, BBC etc.), and we got some funding from the Wellcome Trust to develop the film. I spent several months searching for people who were really engaging, really connected to music, and in the process of having some kind of new experience. I met many people with very interesting stories, but chose my three subjects Nick Coleman (music critic), Holly Loach (pianist) and Emily Thornton (dancer), because they’re all fascinating in different ways, and I think their perspectives complement each other. They’re all people you want to spend time with on film.
I started researching in 2009, and the film premiered just a few days after we finished it in March 2012, at SXSW in Austin. So it took about three years, with lots of people giving their time and energy despite our tiny budget. The film was quite a difficult wrangle — combining personal stories, science, animation, music and an underwater world filmed using cunning low-budget means! — so it changed a lot along the way. What didn’t change was that I wanted to make a film that was powerful yet also gentle, a respectful film, and one that shared the sense of wonder and amazement that I first felt when I met the scientists and subjects involved.
What did you learn about your own deafness from making the film?
I didn’t really think about my own deafness during production – there wasn’t time! All of us gleaned advice on how to manage hearing loss from excellent doctors like Dr David Baguley at Addenbrookes Hospital, and I certainly took in everything that the film’s subjects learned and said, whether from brain scans or wise grandparents. Spending time with Nick, Holly, Emily and their families was a wonderful kind of solidarity, as we all have an experience in common and just being able to talk about all things deaf was great. I think overall making the film confirmed what I’ve always hoped — that your brain and your body can do miraculous things, given the right support, to help you access the things you love, like music, if your hearing changes. I don’t think it’s easy — the film’s subjects have all worked incredibly hard, and not everyone has such a positive outcome — but amazing things are possible. And deafness can be like a super-power, allowing you new and unexpected ways into music that are about more than just sound.
How do you feel about the final film? Anything you would change?
Ah, the hindsight question! Dangerous… Well, I’m very proud of the film, because of all the people in it, everyone who made it, and the story we managed to tell. We had such a tight budget that I would’ve loved to have had more time in the edit, as everyone always does. There’s always a point where you just have to stop, and I’m bad at that. My producer (Kat Mansoor), exec producer (Tom Roberts) and editor (Adam Lavis) were brilliant at helping me shape the film though, and we did get it to a point where we could all turn the computers off at last! I would have really loved to explore music beyond the scope of technologies like hearing aids and CIs, and to film with a BSL user – it would have been fantastic to include a broader spread of deaf experiences. But this person didn’t materialise in our research unfortunately. The film became quite focused on hearing loss in the end, rather than on long-term experiences of deafness, but I hope people across the spectrum of deafness find something in the film for them.
Our world premiere at SXSW in Austin was very special, with big audiences and warm responses – people were moved and inspired by Holly, Nick and Emily. In Mexico City at Distrital Festival, Deaf professional theatre group Seña y Verbo came along and we had a fantastic debate with simultaneous Mexican Sign Language, Spanish and English translation! And responses at our British premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest were great – lots of people say that the film sticks in their minds for a long time, and they think about music and deafness differently after seeing it.
What’s next up for you?
I’m making a couple of short docs at the moment, and developing a book. Ideally, I’ll make another film that’s somehow about music… I can’t wait to see Channel 4’s new doc about the world’s first professional disabled orchestra! For now though, I’m working on getting Lost and Sound to audiences around the world (we don’t have big budgets for marketing, so it’s a grassroots, indie sort of effort), and I’ll be busy with that for a while yet…
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