The Sundance Break Out Film “CODA” to be Released on August 13th

Seldomly does a single film hit with enough force that it sends shockwaves throughout the industry, upending antiquated models and setting new standards for the rest to follow. CODA is such a film.

Directed by ICM Partners’ client Siân Heder, CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) tells the story of a 17 year-old hearing girl caught at a crossroads between pursuing her musical ambitions and staying home to help with her deaf family’s fishing business.

After selling for the record breaking $25 million price tag to Apple TV+ at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (in a multi-studio bidding war), CODA has followed its world premiere with a slew of awards. Most recently, the American drama won the Sundance Film Festival: London BIFA Award, in addition to Best Ensemble, U.S. Grand Jury Prize, and Audience Award in U.S. Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival. Siân herself won the Directing Award in U.S. Dramatic and the Directors to Watch award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

Shiny trophies aside, CODA’s success—including its production and storyline—is a promising gateway towards greater disability representation in Hollywood. Unlike most film and television projects that have casted hearing actors to play hearing impaired characters (which was the case on the French film La Famille Bélier of which CODA is adapted from), Heder prioritized authenticity all the way. “I truly felt like I would rather see the movie not get made than to see the movie get made with hearing actors,” the director said in an interview, which made the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, about her decision to cast three deaf actors in the film’s starring roles.

As part of her preparation for the 30-day shoot in Massachusetts, Heder spent a year studying American Sign Language, and along the way discovered that ASL “has regionalisms just in the way that a Boston accent would”, which she incorporated into her script. THR article also details many of the cross-department production measures taken to accommodate shooting ASL and working with deaf actors: gaffers learned to never backlight the actors so as to avoid obscuring their hand movements, wardrobe followed a similar dictum to avoid dressing the actors in any clothing that would hide their hands, and set decorators learned that a deaf family has furniture facing a doorway.

Heder said that she is often asked about the challenges of making a film with deaf actors, and her answer always goes back to the difficulties of shooting in fishing boats. With so many other mounting obstacles in a feature film production, working with deaf actors was not the formidable challenge others imagine it to be. Hopefully, CODA’s story, both in front of and behind the camera will open the floodgates for greater opportunities for disability inclusion within our industry.

CODA premiers in theatres and will be available for streaming on Apple TV+ Friday August 13th.