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Struggling To Hear Each Other

Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin star in
Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin star in "Sweet Nothing in My Ear," a new Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about a couple whose only child loses his hearing. (Eric Heinila - Hallmark Hall of Fame)
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The movie includes key characters who are deaf and are played by deaf actors -- including Noah Valencia as Adam and Phyllis Frelich and Ed Waterstreet as Laura's parents. The producers debated whether to use speaking voices with the signing.

"At first we absolutely, adamantly said there would be subtitles, not voice actors," Sargent said. But test audiences who viewed the film said the subtitles were a distraction from the unfolding story.

"In a foreign film, you hear the actor's voice and it connects emotionally," Sargent said. With viewers reading subtitles, trying to match words to the actions on screen, "we had the silence that robbed us of that emotional link."

Besides using the voice actors, Sargent made other adjustments, including a scene that shows Laura and her mother returning from shopping.

"I wanted them loaded with bags, giving a sense of reality to where they've been," he said. "They both looked at me and said, 'You've got to be kidding; how do we communicate with bags in both hands?' For the deaf, the force of their voice is in those two hands. So 'one hand free' was suddenly our golden rule."

SWEET NOTHING IN MY EAR

Sunday

9 p.m., CBS

'Love Is Never Silent'

The actors who portray Marlee Matlin's parents in "Sweet Nothing" -- Phyllis Frelich and Ed Waterstreet -- also worked with director Joseph Sargent in "Love Is Never Silent," a 1985 Hallmark Hall of Fame film. The DVD is slated to be available in Hallmark Gold Crown stores starting in June.

Set in the 1930s and '40s, it centers on a hearing girl (Mare Winningham, right) whose deaf parents have relied on her since her childhood, and she simultaneously protects and resents them.

"As the voice of her parents, she knew she could not leave them," Sargent said. "At the time that story took place, it was unthinkable for deaf people to show their signing in public, to call attention to themselves."

Sargent said "Sweet Nothing" shows "how far we've come in recognizing a separate culture with a viable language. The two films together, in effect, give us a complete portrait. " --- Kathy Blumenstock


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