Guillermo F. Florez is interviewed about the documentary Speechless. Part II.
Did you have any inspiration? Others documentaries directors that you admire?
Yes, many, and we couldn't mention all of them here. Apart from classic articles and books which were very helpful as researching on aphasia (Olvier Sack's “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”), we looked into narrative techniques which could help us to express the lack of language (Faulkner and Dos Passos, for example). But it was very difficult anyway to find a style in literature when we were going to make a film, and silent films wouldn't help us for this.
And there were a couple of scientific films explaining what is aphasia, or interviewing people with aphasia, but we couldn't find a complete, rich, and detailed portrait of someone who was going through it. We wanted to express what it means to loose the language, how can that modify your previous life. So we search for inspiration in films about quite different subjects sometimes, but where we could see somehow a style that would reflect the lack of any of our human abilities (communication, movement, memory, etc). We found this in films like “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (Julian Schnabel), or “My Left Foot” (Jim Sheridan), and in documentaries like “Más allá del espejo” (Joaquim Jordá), “To Be and To Have” (Nicolas Philibert), “The Land of Silence and Darkness” (Werner Herzog), and many others.
What would you like to communicate to the audience?
From the beginning, we wanted to send a message for social recognition of aphasia. But we didn't want to make a scientific film that just explains the technical information (a book may be better for this), or the statistics of people who suffer from it. We wanted to do something that only a film could do, and that is providing a deep, personal, understanding of what exactly means to loose the speech.
My team and I believe that nowadays a documentary is the perfect medium to bring understanding of a social issue like aphasia. We think that aphasia advocates need most of all the understanding from society. This is what social movements like the cancer or the HIV movement obtained after years of fighting, and this is what eventually "aphasia people" will get. But for that, society needs to understand what aphasia really means in a normal person's life, and then the rest may come.
How did you conduct the interview? Why did you choose that particular model of two interviewees with a mirror as background?
I think that when a filmmaker is doing interviews to people who have speech disorders, the filmmaker has to look for behavior rather than interview statements. In this film, it is this behavior the key to understand these characters.
By doing the interviews in pairs (the person with aphasia, and the closest relative), it is my goal to show aphasia from the outside as well as the inside, from the patient's as well as from the relative's point of view, because disabilities are often like this: they are suffered by more people than the ones who actually have it.
The mirror was both an aesthetic and symbolic element. Aesthetic because it allowed us to play with the faces and their reflections during the interview, so we could do beautiful camera movements and focus changes. It gave us more depth than a simple wall or a traditional interview background. But this mirror has also a strong symbolic meaning, because it is behind this mirror from where several specialists analyze the aphasia therapy sessions, and because somehow it is only behind a glass from where we are able to understand aphasia.
Anything you want to say before we see the film?
I just would like to thank here to everyone who has helped us anyhow to make this film, and to anyone who will help us in the future. Without them, this project would have never been made.
Read Part I here