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"All You Hear Is Noise" Review

The trials and tribulations three Special Olympics athletes undergo as they compete in the World Games and move on with their lives following the event

We all love a good underdog, a tale of triumph about individuals who make their mark on the world through displaying their talent and tenacity to ultimately prove their naysayers wrong and establish themselves as the one the best of the best. Who doesn't love such a story?

Except, in the case of Ned Castle and Matt Day's documentary film All You Hear Is Noise, perhaps calling the talented individuals in question "underdogs" is the wrong idea.

Directed, shot, and co-produced by Castle and Day, as well as executive-produced by Robin Roberts' Rock 'n Robin Productions and Springhill Company (Maverick Carter and LeBron James), the feature-length doc follows athletes Trent Williams, Melanie Holmes, and Christopher Wines in their preparation and participation in the the triathlon and other competitions held at the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. However, we are also given a view of each of the competitors' lives following the games, exploring the difficulties in living within a society that has not truly accommodated them yet.

Trent, a track runner with an intellectual-disability, is eager to participate in the games and earn himself a medal of any kind. He feels like to be in his element when he's competing and seemingly prefers that aspect of his life over the his day-to-day activities. Melanie, a cyclist who also has an intellectual-disability, is a bit nervous about participating in a triathlon for the first time, with her anxiety-heightened in regards to being away from home and having to be in a new environment. Her concerns don't stop her, however, from showing up in the World Games to shut down any who would doubt her. Chris, a high-schooler and the youngest of the three athletes, seems as excited to be in the Special Olympics as he is for joining the Navy after the games, but his Asperger's diagnosis has him concerned over his chances at recruitment; and if so, if he even would be accepted among the ranks.

Through hand-held camerawork following each of the athletes in their daily lives and training intercut with real broadcast footage of the 2019 games, we are provided with intimate moments of the athletes contending with their pre- and post-competition anxieties. When they are actually on the track field, in the pool, or on the bike-track, viewers are immersed in some enthralling sequences involving each member of the trio. They face some pitfalls, but ultimately, each one of them leaves the games with a medal to take home and display as a sign of their determination and dedication paying off.

But their stories don't end there.

Rather, we follow each of the athletes as they return to their lives and move on from the games. Here is where perhaps the primary point of the documentary lives, as while Trent, Melanie, and Chris are all undoubtedly skilled-competitors that have earned their accolades, they unfortunately still live in a world that has enveloped them in sense of otherness that no amount of Olympic medals can completely erase.

While home, Trent seems to immediately miss the hype and disconnect from his home-life that he had when he was on the international stage; Melanie must contend with the adjustments of moving away from home; and Chris is still unsure if he'll be accepted into the Navy, even after given some assurance by recruiters.

While the athletes we follow in All You Hear Is Noise are somewhat given resolutions by the end of the film and the audience is left feeling hopeful for them as they face new stages in their lives, the ableism held towards them for their disabilities are likely to not end, nor does the film attempt to claim so. But through Castle and Day's direction, we are compelled to dwell on whether or not enough is being done to make disabled people feel welcomed in this world beyond the Special Olympics. Yes we have the games to highlight some talented athletes, but shouldn't we be extending our respect to these individuals beyond a stage where they compete for our entertainment? Are we able to give them their due respect without making the mistake of infantilizing them and thus further demeaning them?

Such questions are posed but not truly answered here, and perhaps the onus is not on the film for providing these resolutions. What we are provided with in All You Hear Is Noise is a glimpse into a world that too many of us tend to forgot exists, one that is separated from us by a socially-constructed veil held up by the disparities between the disabled and abled and are only occasionally reminded of, such as when one channel-surfs and catches a look at the Special Olympics of the year.

All You Hear Is Noise may not be an underdog story, and maybe it shouldn't be; but it is certainly a call to action.

by Noah Kidane


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