HotDocs Interview – AUDIBLE director Matt Ogens

“AUDIBLE is a cinematic and immersive coming of age documentary following Maryland School for the Deaf high school athlete Amaree McKenstry and his close friends as they face the pressures of senior year and grappling with the realities of venturing off into the hearing world. Amaree and his teammates take out their frustrations on the football field as they battle to protect an unprecedented winning streak, while coming to terms with the tragic loss of a close friend. This is a story about kids who stand up to adversity. They face conflict, but approach the future with hope – shouting to the world that they exist and they matter.” 

Welcome to HotDocs! Is this your first HotDocs experience and what are you looking forward to the most?

First timer. Hot Docs has always been on my bucket list of prestige festivals to premiere at. 

Being able to premiere such a special and personal film for me as the first stop on the release of AUDIBLE is really humbling. 

How did you get your start in the business and what have you worked on in the past?

I actually went to business school. Never knew I could have a career in the arts. Worked in the World Trade Center. Then I realized it wasn’t for me. That I wanted to create something that made an impact. And my natural imagination and curiosity led me to filmmaking in an odd way. I was living in New Orleans and one night was held up at gunpoint. That experience led me to directing a short documentary about violent crime in America through the microcosm of New Orleans. I had no experience. No idea what I was doing. I learned as I went. From there I backed up, worked my way up as a production assistant, while making films on the side. Finally I took a leap of faith and made my first feature documentary CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO (Editor’s note: I saw this at SxSW 2007!) and have directed and produced ever since. Projects include  CNN Heroes. Stand Up 2 Cancer, ESPN 30 for 30’s From Harlem with Love, the doc series Why We Fight, as well as many branded and commercial projects. 

How did AUDIBLE all come together?

Growing up in Maryland, just a few towns over from Maryland School for the Deaf, I never imagined I would one day make a film about this special place.  My connection to the Deaf community grew as I came of age and, as I became a filmmaker, this story became very personal to me. My best friend since childhood is Deaf. Seeing the challenges that he has endured and watching the ways he overcame them taught me about perspective and perseverance. It also happens that my aunt taught sign language at MSD for years and would share stories about how these kids refused limitations or outside definitions. They didn’t see Deafness as a disability, but rather as something that made them part of a community where they had their own language and culture. MSD provides these kids a home where they don’t feel isolated from the world anymore. In Audible we showcase what makes these kids and the Deaf community so amazing.

These kids have been bullied for being Deaf or because of the way they pronounce words. At home they’ve faced parents who didn’t accept them or family members unable or unwilling to become fluent in sign language. But these young people refuse to be defined by the actions of others and instead, at MSD, are empowered to thrive.

For the kids on the football team, playing – and winning—is how they make their bones. It is the way they shout to the world that they exist and they matter. And the lessons they learn resonate across the spectrum of their lives.

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

Staying curious and listening to my subjects. I listen and learn from them. 

What was your biggest challenge with creating this doc, and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

While we wrapped production just before the pandemic, almost all of post production was done remotely and virtually. My editor and I were not in the same location which is a big creative and logistical challenge. I thrive on being in the same space as my collaborators. There is a creative energy you can’t quantify. However, the obstacle is the way and we accepted the challenge and worked through it. It made the film that much more rewarding to work through that. A really emotional moment was the last scene of the film, at the cemetery, also happens to be the final scene we filmed. That day was the anniversary of Teddy’s death, so very important to the kids in our film. It was grey and rainy all day, we were all stuck in traffic trying to get to the cemetery before the sun set. We arrived just in time, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and the most beautiful sun peeked through. To end the film this way, to end production this way and share this experience with the kids was really special. 

Let’s get technical! Tell me about the cameras-slash-equipment you used and the post-production process.

Red Gemini 5k x 2-3 cameras, steadicam, drone, and Avid for the edit!

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your work at HotDocs?

Hot Docs is the coming out party for AUDIBLE. It’s really exciting being able to share it here first!

Of course this is an unpredictable time having this show virtually. How do you feel about movies being shown in this format & do you feel this is right, or do you wish to have a more traditional theatrical release?

Whatever it takes to make and share stories that make us feel and think. 

Where is the doc going next?

AFI DOCS then premieres on Netflix in July!

What is the one thing that you would say to someone wishing to get into filmmaking, either short or long format, especially now as things are changing at such a fast rate?

Do it! But love it! And go out and make things every day!

And finally, what is your favourite documentary of all time and why?

Ooof. Tough answer. So many to choose from. Let’s say Salesman by the Maysles. Pure verite. Pure documentary. 

AUDIBLE is now streaming at HotDocs Online, and watch for the Netflix release in July!

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