Siân Heder’s coming-of-age drama CODA, which was the first feature in Sundance history to win all the top prizes, has made audiences cry, but it’s also made them laugh.
The film tells the story of a high school senior who is the only hearing person in her deaf family and is torn between holding together that unit or seeking her own dreams.
It stars Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, a CODA, or child of deaf adults, who is busy translating for her parents (Oscar winner Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and working on the family’s fishing boat.
Heder told Contenders London event that that she’s pleased that audiences found the film funny – case in point a scene where Kotsur’s Frank Rossi and Matlin’s Jackie Rossi have to go to the doctors for ‘jock itch’ and their daughter is forced to tell them that they can’t have sex for two weeks.
“I found another way to swear,” added Heder.
The writer/director said that she was initially “suspicious” as it’s based on a 2014 French film but soon realized it was “big opportunity” to make a “personal” film and one that explores deaf culture in an “authentic way”.
She admitted that she felt pressure as an “outsider” coming in to this community but that writing in a language that has no written form allowed her to “dig into my own script in a really powerful way”.
Heder highlighted the performances of Jones and Matlin, calling the latter an “amazing collaborator”. In choosing Jones, she said that she was keen to cast an actual young person, as she was tired of seeing 28 year olds play teenagers in film and TV series. “I also wanted someone who could gut a cod”.
Apple paid a record $25M-plus to acquire the film after its opening-night premiere at Sundance, where it won the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast, the Directing Award, the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Check back Monday for the panel video.