Old Mother Tongue
Featuring an all-deaf cast, this beautiful short is a story within a story that shows the power of storytelling.
It explores culture and language in modern day Deaf society through the re-telling of one of the most significant moments in Deaf history: the 1880 Milan Conference on the Education of the Deaf, when sign language was banned in education.
The score makes the most of its humble budget, employing the gorgeous playing of Brigit O’Reagan (Violin) and Brielle Goheen (Viola). Their performances soar above the arrangements and add the depth and emotional richness that only human interpretations on acoustic instruments can.
Grounded by a real event and relatable modern characters, the film has elements of a dark fairytale. We’re introduced to Andy, who has a presentation he has to give at work. We sense his struggle as he wrestles with whether he should use sign language or speech and lip reading. How will he be perceived by his hearing colleagues? Looking to give him perspective and inspiration, his partner, Jessica, recounts her meeting of Mary at a garage sale, and the discovery of a book about Deaf history. As Mary begins to tell the story contained in the book, the audience is transported back in time to learn about Old Mother Tongue.
One of the first ideas director Mark Trifunovic and I discussed was that the music could be a way to enhance the more fantastical side, while also adding contrast between the present day and past events. In this clip, you can hear the more modern sound, which then introduces the fairytale-like Book/Story Theme:
When we enter the world of 1880’s Milan, it is accompanied by a dark, austere arrangement. In contrast to the rest of the film, Mark wanted a “heavy” sound, and a steady beating pulse to signify the inevitability of events as powerful men, led by Alexander Graham Bell, pushed forward their agenda.
Old Mother Tongue’s character represents hope and light for the Deaf, a beacon of activism and community building. She essentially has two themes, which are related to bigger, overarching themes. The first speaks to her strength and courage, and the idea of fighting for what you believe in.
The second, lighter melody tells of her empathy, vulnerability, and work as a teacher, as well as the power of storytelling.
When Old Mother Tongue is taken by police and jailed, we hear her “A” theme set in a minor key, dying away as her fight comes to a tragic end.
As Andy learns about Old Mother Tongue and how “her story is our story”, he is changed and makes a powerful decision at the end of the film. Old Mother Tongue’s theme plays to show her legacy carrying on, as it transfers to become Andy’s theme as much as it is hers.
"The music, the acting, the shots; it’s all a masterfully constructed story that fires on all cylinders. The Strings is one of the most haunting movies the year, guaranteed to stay with you long after the credits roll."
~ Ryan Larsen, Ghastly Grinning