Arts & Culture

Interview : Adam Isenberg

Sunday 15 July
Interview : Adam Isenberg

Screenshot from 'A Life Without Words' - July 15 at 8:30 AM

by Lizzie Ward

Adam Isenberg is the director of A Life Without Words, a visually rich and emotionally powerful film about two deaf adults, Dulce Maria and Francisco, who have spent their lives without language – speech, text or sign. The film follows the story of what happens when they are taught to sign by a sign language teacher, Tomasa. Nicaraguan Sign Language is a relatively new development. Many deaf children and adults have been unable to access language.

Adam’s journey as a film director began a few years ago, “I didn’t study film in school, but came about it a bit late. For the past few years I’ve been directing and hosting a travel documentary program for Turkish state television. A Life Without Words is my first film. I have a degree in linguistics, so I’m trained to deconstruct language. In a way, I apply these skills to the grammar of cinema.”

Whilst studying linguistics, Adam heard about the story of the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language, “after the Sandinista revolution, Deaf Nicaraguans were brought together for the first time in large numbers to be taught Spanish through lip-reading. That didn’t work. Instead, something wonderful happened--within a few years a new and unique sign language emerged, as rich as any other language.”

Adam discovered the NGO in the film – Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects Inc –through research online and he was impressed when he saw their work first hand. “I first thought of making a documentary about the birth of this language, but after researching it more and travelling around Nicaragua meeting members of the Deaf community there, I came across the family in the film and was very touched by Dulce María and Francisco.

“Despite some years studying language in academia, I felt a sudden insight into just what language was when I met these two, who lived without it. But I should say that finding language-less deaf adults is, sadly, not as hard as one might think. Since returning to Turkey last year I have happened across two similar cases here, and heard about others. There are deaf children and adults without language in rural areas of less developed countries all over the world - locked out of fundamental knowledge, frustrated, and particularly vulnerable to abuse. It is an injustice that deserves our attention.”

Watching the film made me aware of how much language gives us – expression, identity, a way to connect with others. However, the film also expressed how human beings can find ways to connect that don’t necessarily need language. Body language is also an important part of human communication. The film transports you into another way of life – one which is both painfully difficult but also lifts the heart.

When asked what the most rewarding aspects of making the film were, Adam answered, “Knowing Dulce María and Francisco, and feeling by the end that we are friends. Every day with them was special. There is so much I could never share with them, and so much they could never share with me, but passing time together, everyday, we came to know each other. We seemed to exist in different dimensions, yet we shared time and space together, and as human beings we had so much in common. I hope that the film viewers can feel a bit of what it was to be with them. It changed me in ways I still feel.”

Adam’s future projects are also looking inspiring, “I keep busy with the travel documentary show for Turkish television, and meanwhile I’m working on a documentary about being Deaf in prison. A friend of a friend here in Turkey is serving a ten-year sentence for robbery and is the only Deaf prisoner where he is being held. His situation is quite hard as no one else at the prison knows Turkish Sign Language.”

To find out more about A Life Without Words, please visit,