REVIEW – “Inga Can Hear” – Hot Docs, April 25 to May 6, 2019 (Toronto)
Inga Can Hear is a thought-provoking documentary about the challenges faced by a Latvian “[hearing] child of Deaf adults” (CODA), who is also, perhaps, transitioning, and experiencing other growing pains as well. In its short, neat run-time of a hour, it is unable to address all the upheavals of Inga/Edward’s life, which causes me to think that less access was granted to the director, Kaspars Goba, for footage that plays toward the last 20 minutes. However, this film is worthy of appreciation in its examination of a different family structure than we might otherwise be exposed to.
Inga is a sixteen year-old girl living in rural Latvia. Her mother, father, sister and brother are all deaf but, remarkably, Inga can hear. She’s been the family’s interpreter to the hearing world since she was seven. Inga, however, has dreams of shaping her own identity and figuring out her own future beyond her responsibilities to her family.
This film simultaneously touches on so many things: adolescence, Deafness, LGBT issues, generational conflict, Latvia, rural life, family relationships, education, intolerance, poverty, finding identity, and finding love. In other words, this is a film about a life in progress, messiness included.
I have respect for CODAs, as often they grow up from a very young age, helping out their families with translating spoken language into sign language and vice versa. Edward’s family not only is comprised of two Deaf parents, but they also has a Deaf sister and a Deaf brother as well. Edward plans to be the only graduate of secondary school in their family. However, to say that there is tension between obligations and duties at home and excelling at school would be a vast understatement.
Through the first part of the film, Edward acts as interpreter for us, the viewers, explaining the family dynamic, and their goals and aspirations. The last part distances us from Edward, a bit, which can be explained by the various changes that happen to them, but I wonder if some nuance/connection is lost there – where, if more connection was present, perhaps – the audience would relate more to Edward’s experiences. For example, Edward gets into a number of fights at school, but we are not told why or how Edward feels about them. Edward also finds a partner, but we do not learn much more about this individual.
I can imagine that it is difficult to be a documentary subject – and just like being a CODA, you would want to live your own life by your own terms and not want to justify your actions to your family AND the documentary crew AND the film audience. Perhaps, if Edward is distancing themselves from the film, someone else could provide insights into what is happening to Edward during this time of upheaval?
Then again, Edward is the best person to talk about Edward. And like a life in progress, the story is not over yet.
This film simultaneously touches on so many things: adolescence, the deaf and hearing impaired, LGBT, generational conflict, Latvia, rural life, family relationships, education, intolerance, poverty, finding identity, and finding love!
Q&A with Director Kaspars Goba
What is Inga’s preferred pronoun?
Inga now refers to herself as she.
Who is the other elderly gentleman in the movie besides Inga’s father?
It’s Inga’s grandfather, father of Inga’s mom. He just passed away week ago.
What did it mean that Inga created a sign language when she was 4? Does her family use Latvian ASL or the ASL they created for them?
She didn’t have proper training in sign language translation. She tried to learn communication with her parents and the outside world by herself. She didn’t know the exact meaning of all the signs in spoken language and developed a “strange sign language”, as she says. She has been her family’s translator since the age of 7.
Did “Edward” experience any transphobia?
I think that concept of being trans is far too complex to understood in Latvian rural areas, and not only in rural ones. People around had difficulties to realise that she likes girls and she experienced homophobia. To be honest, there is some level of misunderstanding (transphobia would be probably too loud) even among some members of LGBT community. We are still at early phase of accepting wide varieties of sex, gender and orientation combinations. Most of Latvian trans people are leaving the country and prefer to live abroad. I know only four trans people who live here openly, and actually one passed away and her family buried her under her original man’s name. The two most open work for international institutions.
What is “Edward” doing now?
We had a short conversation with Inga about Edward some time ago, and she said that was kind of a gender seeking time in her life and she is fine to be called Inga now. I have a feeling that she feels a little bit shy to talk about it.
More on Kaspers can be found on his website.
Public Screenings at Hot Docs
Tuesday, April 30 at 6:45 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Thursday, May 2 at 3:00 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
About the Author
Michael McNeely law student graduate, entertainment and accessibility critic; filmmaker; and aspiring actor. He enjoys meaningful representations of LGBT folks and those with disabilities in the popular media, and is waiting for the day where nuance, instead of stereotype and prejudice, is the norm. Michael is deaf-blind, meaning that he enjoys the presence of subtitles and other accessibility features.