Emmy-winning Oscar nominee Irene Taylor Brodsky, 41, earned a Peabody and the Sundance Audience Award for her 2007 documentary Hear and Now, about her deaf parents’ entry to the hearing world at 65, thanks to cochlear implants. She tells AARP about her 2019 doc Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements (HBO, Dec. 11, premieres 9 p.m. ET), concerning her father's struggle with dementia and her deaf son Jonas's cochlear implants — and his triumphant musical ambition.
Revisiting her life
I did say Hear and Now was my last family film. Apparently, I was lying. But of course, I did not know that I would have a deaf son, born just as that film came out.
Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata
If you told my dad 50 years ago that there would be this tool that would allow him to hear, but if he didn't want to hear he could just turn it off, he wouldn't have believed it.
Fast forward to 2016. My son is playing piano, he's quite good, and out of the blue he says he wants to learn the “Moonlight Sonata.” Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote this piece. There was an incredible cosmic irony: this deaf boy of mine was learning a piece by the most famous deaf person. My longtime HBO mentor Sheila Nevins immediately told me, “We've got to make this film."
300 years of hearing loss — and gains
We had Beethoven in the 1800s going deaf; my father and mother being deaf in the 1900s; and now here's my son in the 21st century. The film is a great narrative vehicle to talk about family, music and the value of deafness in creativity.
How far we've come
Deafness is not as isolating for Jonas as it was for Beethoven or my parents. Now there are so many laws and tools and technology that Jonas just lives in a completely different universe.