By Leo Barraclough, Variety
Netflix’s coming-of-age documentary “Audible,” which world premiered this week at Hot Docs Film Festival, follows Maryland School for the Deaf high school athlete Amaree McKenstry and his close friends during their senior year.
Director Matt Ogens speaks to Variety about the film, whose exec producers include actor Peter Berg, the Emmy nominated creator of “Friday Night Lights,” and deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco, winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars,” and a deaf community activist.
Ogens, whose credits include Emmy winner “From Harlem With Love” and Emmy nominated “Why We Fight,” grew up about 30 miles from Maryland School for the Deaf, and his best friend since the age of eight is deaf, so he knew of the deaf community through his friend and knew of the school.
In addition to documentaries, Ogens directs branded content and commercials, and about 10 years ago directed a campaign about high school football teams around the country, and the Maryland School for the Deaf was one of them. He stayed in touch with the school because he “felt like there was a bigger story to tell,” and shot the doc last year, which was “the perfect year, because of the characters we landed with and the dynamic in the film,” he says.
Ogens decided to focus on the school’s football team and McKenstry, one of its star players, in particular. “I was trying to capture the teenagers’ point of view, rather than doing something observational from my point of view. I wanted to create an immersive audio-visual experience of what it sounds and looks like to be a teenager, and all those high school touchstones – your senior year, the homecoming dance, and sports. And so that semester of high school and that football season gives it a nice narrative arc to ground yourself in, but also, at least in this case, and I think in many cases in sports documentaries, sports can be a great metaphor for life, and more so with these kids – resilience and proving yourself, and the ups and downs of life off the field mirrored the season in a way as well.”
As one would do for a narrative film, Ogens was looking to “cast” his lead “character,” and McKenstry stood out. “It’s tough because every kid at that school has a great story. It’s about Amaree and his relationships, but also, in some ways, I hope he’s an avatar for the other kids there and represents them in some way. He had some conflicts. I thought it was interesting that he was not born deaf. He had meningitis around two to three years old. At the same age, his father left the family.”
In the film, we see his father attempting to rebuild their relationship. Other elements in Amaree’s story include the death of a close friend, Teddy, and his relationships with cheerleaders Jalen Whitehurst and Lera Walkup.
“You’re seeing the team, but through the eyes of Amaree, and even the other characters like Coach Ryan or Lera, his on again, off again, girlfriend and cheerleader, or Jalen, his friend and cheerleader. This made it singularly focused, which is nice and tight,” Ogens says. “I also think this could be a springboard for something larger.”
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