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‘Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements’ shows complex situations of deaf people

The ACT Human Rights Film Festival started off with a well-produced film titled “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements” about deafness and the complexity that comes with it

The ACT Human Rights Film Festival is an international film festival dedicated to human rights issues. This is the fourth annual festival. ACT stands for Awaken to the world around you, Connect across cultures and Transform communities near and far. It takes place from April 5 through April 13 at both the Lory Student Center Theatre and The Lyric Cinema.


“Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements,” directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, is Brodsky’s second film on the subject of deafness and how it shows up in her family. This film follows primarily her son, Jonas, who became deaf at age 4. He underwent surgery and got cochlear implants and was able to hear. Now, years down the road with Jonas as an 8th grader, the documentary focuses on his journey with being a deaf person who is able to hear with his implants.

Jonas, a music lover and piano player, becomes captivated by Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” He wants to learn to play a challenging piece, and footage from his piano lessons and solo practice sessions are shown throughout the documentary, making it a crucial part of the film. 

Brodsky’s first documentary, “Hear and Now,” focused on her parents who are both deaf. Once again, they make up an important part of this documentary, showing the generational differences of deafness and the challenges that come with aging.

An encore screening of “Moonlight Sonata” Tuesday, April 9 at the Lyric Cinema will be fully accessible for deaf and hearing-impaired community members.

There are eight themes at the ACT festival this year, and each film fits into at least one. “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements” encompasses “animating the lives of others” and “unbearable lightness of being a kid.” There was beautifully done animation through the film of piano playing, birds and generally soothingly sad colors, like blues and purples. For the “unbearable lightness of being a kid,” Jonas as the focal point of the documentary provides a hero of sorts for the audience to root for in achieving his dreams. The film also makes a point to emphasize Jonas’ child-like tendencies throughout the film, like dabbing and playing Minecraft, to emphasize that he is no different than other kids his age. 

There are so many symbols in the documentary that provide a deep, thematic understanding of the lives of this family, like driving. Brodsky’s dad, who is deaf, got his license when he was a teenager and that served as a sense of freedom and autonomy. But, as he gets older and starts showing early signs of dementia, his license gets taken away. His dementia also serves as a symbol to some extent as it starts to take what Brodsky described as his most prized possession: his intellect.

The documentary is filled to the brim with emotion. Members of the audience were crying tears of happiness and sadness throughout the film. The struggles of the family, whether it be struggles in how they relate to deafness, age or just plain old family dynamics, were emotion provoking. Watching Jonas succeed also evoked strong emotions.

“Moonlight Sonata” was also well produced in addition to emotionally moving. The audio mixing alone deserves a nod. In a film about deafness, the audio was paid attention to in scenes with lots of noise contrasted against scenes of silence.

The showing of “Moonlight Sonata” was followed by a talk and Q&A session from the director Irene Taylor Brodsky and the producer Tahria Sheather.

Maddie Wright can be reached at or on Twitter @maddierwright.


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