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from our Second Annual UnLonely Film Festival.
The Last Time I Heard True Silence
Follow the five steps below to get the most out of your UnLonely Film Festival experience!
Step 1: Watch the film.
Noah Cass was a Marine machine gunner in Iraq in 2005 when his team was ambushed, leaving him with permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Back home, the difficult transition into civilian life, and the isolation that can arise from bearing such traumatic experiences, lead Noah to addiction and other problems. Pursuing sobriety, Noah started running in his local woods, even in the dead of night and signing up for a 50-mile wilderness race. Embracing the solitude, peace and intense challenge of running helps him cope with his haunting past and live more fully in his life as a husband and father.
About the FIlmmaker
Tim O’Donnell is an Emmy-nominated and award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has been featured on ESPN, ABC, and PBS. He has won IndieWire’s “Project of the Month,” and worked with the Tribeca Film Institute and SnagFilms. He is based in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Did you set out to explore loneliness in your film and if so, what prompted this focus?
In True Silence, we set out to focus on what happens to a veteran after returning home and what coping devices were used to help transition back into civilian life. The more we got to know our main subject Noah Cass, the more we found loneliness to be a real problem among veterans. Noah has lost more veterans to suicide than during his active duty time at war. Most of his friends who committed suicide had succumbed to isolation.
Alternately, did you recognize a theme of loneliness as your project developed?
Isolation is a big issue among veterans in today’s climate. 0.45% of Americans have served which makes it challenging for veterans to connect, which is an important piece of transitioning successfully.
Did any of your viewers give you feedback that reflected this aspect of your film?
Yes, a lot of the feedback has been very positive on giving insight into how to connect after trauma and successful ways of using coping devices.
What do you hope UnLonely Film Festival audiences, trying to make sense of loneliness and isolation and navigate a path forward, take from your film?
We hope audiences get insight into the lives of veterans and refugees and create empathy and understand. We hope these films are conduits into their worlds and create connections with various communities.
Any other information of backstory you want to share about your film?
Both films were collaborative in nature, as we gave the subjects cameras and recording devices to use as diary journals. We found this a great way for us (the filmmaking team) to better understand our subjects and their communities
Step 2: Explore these things after watching the film.
- Do you know of a time when you were conscious of absolute silence? Did you find it to be comforting or unnerving? Do you wish for more moments of silence or less? Why?
- Noah’s persistent ringing in his ears is a hidden disability but is one that must have a tremendous impact on his daily life. Are there other hidden disabilities that you’ve experienced in your life—either personally or through observing the experience with loved ones? Do you think that it is more difficult to have the disability go unnoticed by the larger community? Or do you think the acknowledgment of the disability provides more challenges to the person affected?
- Within the film’s dedication one might note an interesting choice of words: “And [to] those we have lost in the battle at home.” Have you ever considered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a battle being waged in the homes of veterans? Does the metaphor hold-up? Do you think enough attention is paid in this country to this issue? If not, what more could be done?
- Noah says that he got the tattoos on his leg as reminders, but also as a ‘motivational tool.’ Is there an image or design that could work for you in the same way? Try out sketching an image or two in pencil and then once you feel happy with the sketch(es), take a pen to outline the most important elements of the sketch. Now pick a place on your body where you can see the sketch(es) and use medical tape or bandaids to adhere the sketch to your skin. Try to live with the sketch on you for at least a few hours. What is the experience like? Does the sketch have the desired effect? Or does it seem strange for you to be attached to the image in such a public way?
- It is clear that the sounds of his runs and the impact of the constant ringing in his ears are a very important part of the runs to Noah. Experience this for yourself by setting out for a hike in a secluded, and preferably wooded area—or even for a walk in a wooded urban park—bringing a notebook and pen. Pay attention to the noises you hear and then when you get to a place where you feel you are as secluded as possible from others around you, set a timer for a minute or two, and write down as many noises as you hear. Reflect on the list and add other sensory details you’re experiencing, smells, sights, etc. In addition to the things you’ve seen, smelled, touched, and heard, make a list of the thoughts and ideas that have gone through your mind during the walk. Put this all together, with some editing if you choose, to create a list poem of your experience.
- To better understand Noah’s disability, and to get a sense of the impact of sound on one’s creative expression, conduct a drawing experiment. Find on the internet a recording of ocean waves on a beach. With drawing tools of your choosing (crayons, pens, pencils, etc.) listen quietly for a minute until shapes, colors, and/or an image comes to mind and then start the timer on your phone for 3 minutes. If the timer goes off, and you feel unfinished and want to continue, do so, but try not to devote more than another 5 minutes to the drawing. Next find a recording of natural sounds from a forest and do the same thing over again but of course finding new shapes, colors, designs to draw. Finally, find a recording of a persistent ringing sound—similar to the one used in the film—and follow through with the steps again. What was your experience like for each of the sounds? How do the three images compare to each other?
PS: Looking for even more ways to "creatively connect?" Follow this link for a few other ideas.
Step 3: Join in the conversation about the film.
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