Louder Than Words, written and directed by Julio Dowansingh and available now for streaming on Dekkoo, is a short coming-of-age film that beautifully weaves music and dance into the intersection where budding queer romance and what it means to be deaf meet. The film follows Niall (played by Marty Lauter) – a queer, deaf dancer – as he develops feelings for Ansel (Luke Farley) during their time sharing a rehearsal space. The two leads are supported by actress Apryl Wilson in the role of Kenya who serves as a link between the boys when a romantic gesture isn’t received well and Ansel has to consider the possibility that he might not be straight. I sat down with Dowansingh to discuss queerness, deafness, and the making of Louder Than Words.
Julio, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Julio Dowansingh, and I’m the director of Louder than Words. I was born in London, raised in Jamaica, and then later moved to Boston to study film. It was there that I discovered that I was good at creating a visual connection with people through film. Louder Than Words is the first big project that I’ve brought to fruition from just a story in my head to what you see on-screen. It’s definitely my baby.
What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in the film?
Dancers and musicians both rely on sound, and I’ve always had a curiosity as both a writer and a person about whether or not deaf people experience those things in the same way we do. As it turns out, they do. They react to the vibrations. And I was like, “Wow, this is so interesting. This should be in a story.” I also wanted to create a positive representation that deaf and queer people could engage with and enjoy.
Where do you get your creative ideas from?
I draw a lot of my inspiration from music which is such a big part of this film and my life. I wanted to create an original song for the project, so I reached out to a bunch of really talented composers so we could get the vibe just right. Luke is also a musician so it was cool to all sit in a room and throw out ideas. I grew up on country music, so I think a lot of those influences leaked through especially in regards to the rural Massachusetts setting.
At the very beginning of the film, we first see Niall dance before realizing that he’s deaf. Was that a deliberate choice?
I wanted to introduce the character in his element before revealing that he was deaf. People are oftentimes shocked when they see a performance and then find out afterward that the person is hearing impaired. The truth is that the Deaf community can do all the things we can do and there’s really nothing that separates us aside from their ability to hear. That first scene is a nice moment where the audience gets to realize this firsthand.
Is Niall’s crush on Ansel his first queer experience?
It’s not his first queer experience, but this time definitely feels more real. He feels that there’s a connection there and decides to put a little bit more effort into the relationship to see where it could go.
How did you approach taking on a deaf character in your film?
When I started this project, I wanted to provide the Deaf community with positive representation. Because I wasn’t a part of that community myself, I wanted to make sure that everything was accurate. Except for a few hearing-impaired family members, I didn’t know much about the Deaf community, so I wanted to learn as much as I could. Luckily, I have two close friends with experience in that regard. One is deaf and the other is very fluent in ASL (American Sign Language), and I had them look over the script to get their feedback which was extremely helpful. I also learned sign language myself by taking a couple of courses.
Did you have any specific instructions for Marty Lauter, the actor who played Niall?
Marty basically had a week and a half to get everything down, but he picked it all up really quickly. He understood the character and was perfect for the role which required a heavy emphasis on visual communication. Thankfully, he was a genius with the ASL, the dancing, and the acting.
Ansel’s character seems to be an outsider. What do you think drew him to befriend Kenya and Niall beyond the scope of just using their rehearsal space?
In the first scene, the character comes off as a little abrasive. When Kenya gives him some attitude back, he realizes he needs to reconnect to let them know that there’s more to him. Their first impression of him wasn’t so great so he decides to put his best foot forward by apologizing to not seem so standoffish since they’re going to be sharing a rehearsal space.
Towards the beginning of the film, Ansel seems very interested in Niall’s deafness and then goes on to fix the chain on Niall’s bike and even tries his hand at dancing. What do you feel are the motives driving those interests?
Throughout the film, Ansel sees Kenya and Niall being so comfortable in themselves, and he becomes more open as he gets to know them more. He also feeds off of the interest that Niall is showing in him even if he doesn’t necessarily understand why at the time. All he knows is that Niall experiences everything a little bit differently than he does which intrigues him.
The kiss at the very end of the film lends itself to being open-ended. What were the choices behind this ambiguity?
My goal was to have the audience in this place where they didn’t really know where Ansel stood because that’s where he was in his own head, too. He was confused but definitely interested even if it wasn’t in an overt way.
What do you think modern-day LGBTQ youth will gain from seeing this film and why is it important to show these kinds of stories on screen?
Hopefully, they’ll gain more understanding about deaf and bisexual people because we don’t see a lot of that on screen. After the film was released, I got fan letters from some queer deaf people telling me how deeply they connected with the film which was one of my goals. I was so nervous just to hear their feedback, but it was really well received. They said it was so good to see someone like themselves on the screen. I made this film for those people, and the fact that they related to these characters was more than I could ever ask for.
What would 15-year-old Julio say about seeing something like Louder than Words on screen?
I remember watching these short, queer films that had these sad, depressing endings. My driving force in creating Louder Than Words was to create a positive narrative that people in the Deaf and queer community could watch and feel good about themselves.
Any plans for Louder than Words in the future?
The film has had a pretty good run so far. In addition to having been in a few festivals from Barcelona to China, it is a semi-finalist for the jellyFEST Film Festival in LA this summer which I’m so excited for. I also think that it could easily be adapted into a series or a feature-length film.
What’s it like to have your film featured on Dekkoo?
Right away, I knew that I wanted to be apart of Dekkoo because the platform helps my film reach the audience it’s meant for.
Are you currently working on any more exciting films or other creative projects?
I’ve been working on a lot of music videos with artists lately. I’m also currently writing a feature-length script that’s in its early stages. I would like to continue incorporating deaf and queer characters to reflect what we don’t often see on screen. Their experiences can be vastly different from our own yet their stories need to be told.