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The Tuba Thieves

1h 33m Documentary, Deaf and Disabled 2023

This film defies classification. It’s an essay-style drama with documentary features that actively experiments with image and sound. The ‘essays’ as such are enacted in the audio play and the image play that intersect and merge. There is no voice-over.

We follow a couple who meet at Deaf Club and over the course of the film become lovers and fall pregnant. There’s a kind of linear time sense, but the story is told via adventures by the couple, and travels through an urban landscape where the audio jumps and cross fades from static and murmurs to full-on loud sync sound, though rarely dialogue.

This disjunction between image and sound is surprising throughout. There’s a great scene where the woman lover is in a cupboard touching the texture of a coat and playing with her hands, moving them around, part ASL, part play. It’s achingly sensual but on the soundtrack we hear static and distortions. This works to alter the consciousness of the audience – it’s like you need to tune in differently, to different rhythms and realities. Life slows down, then suddenly you’re on a football pitch with loud cheerleaders, then they’re still waving and shouting but all you can hear are clicks and little random whirring loops. Your eyes and ears can’t entirely to be trusted to be experiencing the same data, the material you think you’re viewing – so you hyper-focus and the process is rewarding – the images dance along, the sound leaps and bounds all over – you surrender to it and the narrative slowly reveals itself.

Cutting into this esoteric sensory action like a bizarre reality tv news show are reports of tubas and other musical instruments being stolen from schools and choirs.

Director Alison O’Daniel describes The Tuba Thieves as a ‘meditation on access and loss,’ and the film as ‘a re-frame of cinema from a d/Deaf and hard-of-hearing perspective.’

It’s a film about a type of listening that is untethered from the ear; it’s types of resistance based in history and place and the people who defied the rules: the stories of Deaf woman Nyke Price and drummer Geovanny Marroquin, the ambient noises of Los Angeles, John Cage’s 1952 composition 4′33″, a 1979 punk show at San Francisco’s famed Deaf Club.

Informed by her own experience as a hard-of-hearing filmmaker, O’Daniel messes with media – documentary, essay film, captions, audio art, character study, video art – that ‘probe the processes of interpretation and (mis)communication.’ It’s ultimately immersive in the Deaf/HOH experience, while tracking a universal narrative of hope and connection.

Prepare to be baffled, then overwhelmed by the different worlds you inhabit in the course of this unusual film. It is truly an original.


Alison O'Daniel


American Sign Language and English with English Subtitles







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