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30. Uluslararası Film Festivali 2-17 Nisan 2011 Close
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Q&A: Maximon Monihan
(La voz de los silenciados)

“America has a love affair with slavery for 400 years.”

As she bids farewell to her family on her way to New York from Central America, Olga thinks that she is going to a school where deaf and mute kids study. However, when she arrives in New York, she finds herself in the hands of a merciless gang. She is forced to beg on the subway, and is subjected to physical and psychological torture.
The director of La voz de los silenciados / The Voice of the Voiceless, Maximon Monihan has answered our questions.

Interview by Ceyda Aşar.

La voz de los silenciados / The Voice of the Voiceless is based on actual events. What was your inspiration? Was it seeing people selling “I am deaf” trinkets at the subway?
Having slavery happening right in front of your face. Everyday. And nobody was even fazed by it. America has been having a 400+ year old love affair with slavery. All the messed up crap that happens in the so-called land of the free can be directly traced back to slavery. So the fact that it was taking place so blatantly, seemed like something that should be commented on. So basically, it was simply something I witnessed riding the trains, every day. They saw these very humble, meek people handing out the cards with trinkets for sale. But what’s crazy, what’s really telling, is that the vast majority of the people who interacted with these people, on a daily basis, had no idea that these people were in fact being forced to do this against their will. 100% oblivious to the reality. 100% unaware that they were interacting with enslaved peoples.


How and why did you choose to work with non-actors?
When you’re making a movie as an amateur, with a bunch of other amateurs, and you have to make it for absolutely no money (not using that budget figure metaphorically) you don’t really have a choice when it comes to using actors versus non-actors. But honestly, I prefer non-actors. Besides, I really can’t stand movies with well-known faces in them. It almost immediately takes me out of the story. Oh look, it’s Tom Hanks pretending to be a Boat Captain. All the people in our film were friends. So we decided who was most like whom in the script and made them take on that role. That’s the whole trick to casting.

This is your first feature. Were you quite sure that your first film’s theme would be something about these victims?
Yeah, this is definitely my first real film. Other stuff was mainly skateboard films, some music videos, some commercials (ugh!), some short half hour mocumentary films with my friend Prince Paul that I’m proud of. But the goal of everyone whoever even gets close to a camera is to make a proper feature film (or now, a cable TV series). This is going to sound incredibly clichéd but it’s true: I was making claymation movies on super 8 when I was just a little kid. The whole time, I’ve written, so there have been a number of stories I’ve wanted to tell. La Voz was always the one that would be the cheapest to make, so when this car company that was trying to desperately tap into ‘youth culture’ told us they’d give us a camera and free tickets to fly wherever we wanted if we’d make them a little short film, we thought to ourselves, ‘we’ll give ‘em the first 10 minutes, but we gonna make a damn feature!’ To answer your question, though, pretty much all of my movie ideas center around people being facing different forms of injustice.

Your character is from Latin America. Did you decide that to stay true to the facts?
The people that went through these ordeals were all from Latin America. So it only made sense to stay true to these facts and keep it a Latin American scenario. Plus, on a more macro-level, the United States has always had a peculiar history and relationship with Latin America, all tying back to that slavery issue I was mentioning before.


Did you examine any kind of intense interest or awareness from the public towards these hearing impaired people during the shooting?
Well, of course, when people realize someone else is different, they start to act in weird ways. That’s pretty typical everywhere in the world. But what we found interesting during the shooting of the film was this: Janeva would enter in one door of the subway car, and we’d sneak in with the camera at the other end of the car. We’d quickly set up the camera and while looking out for the police (it’s illegal to shoot on subways in post 9-11 New York, we’d very secretly signal Janeva to start her routine. None of the people on the trains knew we were filming at first. But then the amazing thing was, they’d almost always give her money if they saw the camera. And like the honest noble filmmakers we are, we’d immediately walk up to them (after getting the shot of course) and try to return the money. And almost always, they’d respond by saying, “No, no. She can keep the money. She needs it more than we do.”


Any other plans that will carry out and spread this social message?
Hopefully. We’d love to have it screened at schools, and with groups that are dealing with human trafficking issues, deaf culture issues, immigration and globalization issues. The big goal is to get the NY media machine talking about it.

Has there been any progress to punish those who pledge Christian sign language schools and recruit deaf slaves?
There was a big bust on one of the rings in 1997 in New York. But unless I’m mistaken, they’re all out now. And the crazy thing is, you still see these type of operations happening every once in a while. And you just think to yourself, “if you don’t pull the weed out by the root, it will always grow back.”