Directed By: Matthew Ogens
Where I Watched It: Netflix
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: Audible centers primarily around a singular football player, but really is about a larger story involving a deaf football team, that loses their first game in a very long time, and how that shapes them and how the uniquely react and respond moving forward. By tackling not just the broader spectrum of what it would be like to operate as a deaf football team, but instead focus more on the individual students experiences, not just losses on the field, but personal as well, Audible offers an intimate look at a group of young people doing what everyone else does every day. They just happen to be deaf, but they refuse to let that bring them down or hinder their options in life.
What Works: Well, we’ve really been focusing heavily on the deaf experience, with last years Oscar nominated Sound Of Metal, and this years Coda, as well as Audible. Talk about representation, and making sure these stories reach and connect with audiences. While this documentary is short and not feature length (it is one of the nominees this year for Documentary Short Subject), you do wonder if it works better as a short, or if there wasn’t more here to make a feature.
Since it is presented to me as a short, I will say that it did feel like in the format and content chosen, that short was the way to go. Audible focuses primarily on one football player on the team, and not on the team itself, nor does it go into a deep dive on how the team functions and operates. you do get a brief idea, but this really is more of a documentary about one deaf football player than it is the whole team, or an even broader concept about deaf athletes. Those broader terms are what end up in feature length docs, but these intimate stories can feel tighter in short form.
So that’s what happens here, Audible works because its director makes a choice, and sticks to it. And it might not be the story you expect, but you still get a human connection, albeit to one individual player.
What Doesn’t Work: This is something though that I would like to see expanded into a longer form, not just because I want a documentary about deaf football players achieving their winning dreams, but rather that even in this intimate format, it felt like there was so much more to these students, not just the one the director focused on.
This really becomes evident through the mentions of Teddy, a former teammate who transferred to a regular public school, and how his story ends. His story is not the main focus, however when in contrast to our featured student, their stories are both so personal, and interesting, and have that feeling of familiarity with someone you may know, even if that person isn’t deaf, that it reminds you that these students, their families, go through some very specific challenges, but often those are in addition to the exact same challenges many non-hearing impaired people go through everyday.
And for a group of kids who don’t hide behind their disability, and are determined to open and go through all the same doors as everyone else, seeing those personal stories that have that familiarity is what makes Audible work. So I have to wonder, if we had learned more about the other students on the team, would we have seen even more students whose actual struggles are so similar to ours? It’s easy to write this documentary off as “the deaf football team” movie, but that’s not what it is at all.
These kids very much want to function and be seen in a world that would reduce them to being just good deaf football players, instead of just football players. And by exploring more of these students incredibly relatable stories off the field, instead of being given a story that tells you that these students are so great because of the adversity they overcome everyday on and off the field, you end up being reminded just how much these kids are like your own.
Audible is fine as it is, in short form, because it chooses to not just be “the deaf football team” movie, but I believe that there’s an even stronger and better version of the story that doesn’t just focus primarily on one student, but rather the totality of this team, and how their lives off the field shape their experiences just as much as those audibles called on the field.
The Blind Perspective: I would be shocked if a documentary about disabled individuals ignored another disability. So of course this has audio description, and it’s actually pretty great. The description features narrators doing the voices of the deaf students when they are signing to each other, and they’ve done a gender match up. So even though the primary narrator is female, a male voice will speak for a male student. That helps a lot with continuity. I appreciate that. Some might worry that it starts to cross over into performative dubbing, but I would argue that this is a documentary, not a fiction film, so there isn’t acting.
Final Thoughts: I’m not sure if Audible will win this year. It’s a solid documentary, though I still have this nagging feeling that there’s a much stronger film waiting to be feature length. I do dread someone trying to adapt this story into one of those generic uplifting sports dramas, where Josh Lucas or Kurt Russell comes in and coaches a team to victory. We don’t need that. Representation and visibility matter, and i don’t trust a major studio to cast a team of deaf teenage students to flesh out that cast. I’d much rather hear their stories straight from the horses mouth, so to speak.
Final Grade: B+