In order to make this documentary about a boy learning to communicate for the first time, director Edward Lovelace learned British Sign Language himself. There’s something fitting in that, because the whole film reminds us of the importance of communication with one another and how similar we all are under the skin.
Lovelace is best known for The Possibilities Are Endless, his minutely-observed portrait of singer Edwyn Collins' recovery from a stroke. He gets similarly up-close and personal here to an ordinary family who have endured an extraordinary journey to communicate with their younger son. Lawand was born profoundly deaf in a Kurdish part of northern Iraq, where facilities for teaching deaf children at that time were utterly absent. In desperation his family fled for the UK and found help at the Royal School for the Deaf.
As he learns British Sign Language, Lawand blossoms, emerging as a bright, happy kid with an interest in football, bombing along through dreamily shot sun-drenched meadows. He makes friends with others in his class and starts to communicate with his family, particularly brother Rawa. But over all this hangs the awful threat of deportation from the hostile government, an unseen but ever-present threat.
In this way Lovelace puts a human face on that perennial political football, the refugee, and implicitly makes a bold criticism of the current government's inhumanity. Simply by showing the reality that people leave their homes from a desperate need for help rather than on a mere whim, this can't help but make a wider point.
But this is not a political screed so much as a powerful personal portrait of a young boy connecting to a world from which he was previously cut off. In voice over and sign, the latter of which is subtitled when the camera cuts away just like every other voice in the film, Lawand and his family talk about what it means to them to be able to communicate, and the horizons that have opened up for him. In conjunction with classmates and his extraordinary teachers, deaf and hearing people learn to understand one another in a way that is joyous and profound.