Advertisement
Movies

‘Audible,’ a short documentary on a Maryland School for the Deaf football player, competes for Oscar

For two months in the fall of 2019, Amaree McKenstry-Hall was followed by cameras. That’s because he — and the rest of his high school football team — are the subjects of “Audible,” a film competing Sunday in the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category of this year’s Oscars.

The 38-minute film shot largely at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick also serves as a memorial to Theodore “Teddy” Webster, a teammate who died by suicide in 2017 after transferring from the school.

Advertisement

“I did notice some people around me acting differently, being more friendly to me and trying to get some attention,” McKenstry-Hall wrote in an email in response to a question about his experience on set. “However, as time went on, I became used to it, and it did not bother me as much. In the end, I felt it was worth doing because I had the chance to show my own story.”

MSD, with a student body of 450, has campuses in Frederick and Columbia. The 154-year-old Frederick campus educates students from birth to 21, said spokesperson Amy Mowl. The Columbia campus, which opened in 1973, serves children from birth through eighth grade.

Advertisement

Born in Baltimore, McKenstry-Hall attended classes in Columbia most of his life, then transferred to Frederick for high school. He played center and defensive tackle for the MSD Orioles and graduated in 2020.

“I miss my team and all the fun I [had] playing sports. I love my coaches, especially [then-head coach] Ryan Bonheyo, and miss them, too,” he said. “That camaraderie is what I miss the most.”

McKenstry-Hall became deaf at age 3 following a bout of meningitis. His father, Marvin McKenstry Jr., left the family after the diagnosis. In the documentary, Marvin McKenstry says he was scared at the time and didn’t know what to expect.

Amaree McKenstry-Hall, the only deaf person in his family, says in the film that he feels lonely.

“It’s tough. It’s difficult. And my role model was gone,” he says. “But now I feel like I’m connecting with my dad.” He’s thankful for being part of “Audible” because it brought them closer.

“I just always want to be able to show him that whatever differences he feels in my world, I’m willing to go and experience those same differences in his world,” Marvin McKenstry-Hall says in the documentary.

Matt Ogens directed the film and 2007 MSD graduate Nyle DiMarco, past winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars,” was an executive producer. His brother, Neal DiMarco, was an assistant MSD coach during the filming and is now head coach.

Ogens’ portfolio includes Emmy nominations for creating and executive producing a documentary series, “Why We Fight,” and directing “LA Louvre,” an augmented reality film about the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Advertisement

Ogens graduated from Bullis High School in Potomac in Montgomery County. His childhood best friend is deaf, and his aunt formerly worked as an interpreter for MSD. He spent 12 years working on “Audible” before Netflix agreed to work with him, but he didn’t give up, he said, because the project — in part — was personal.

“I hope that it elevates and lifts up the deaf community in terms of representation and inclusion. That to me is the most important thing,” Ogens said.

The film began streaming last summer on Netflix.

Bonheyo, who retired in 2021 after seven years the Orioles’ head coach, had coached McKenstry-Hall since middle school. He hopes “Audible” conveys the message that any deaf child can succeed as long as they’re given equal opportunities.

“Football is one of the avenues for them to show the world what we’re made of. That’s not the only way, but it’s one of the many great ways to put them on display,” he said in the documentary.

Overall, the film is impressive, said Bonheyo.

Advertisement

“I just followed through with [the project], whatever they ask of us … It was a lot of [filming] and a lot of interviews and a lot of repetitive scenes. It caused a lot of exhaustion,” he said. “But during that time, I had hoped for the best.”

Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander, director of the master of fine arts filmmaking program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, said “Audible” is told through the lens of the students.

“This film did such a beautiful job showing the community of the youth, along with their instructors and their coaches,” she said. “You don’t have to be a football fan to understand the community that’s been built in the film.”

The scenes were authentic, she said, particularly one where McKenstry-Hall and classmate Lera Walkup talk while getting ice cream about whether they’re still dating.

“The soundtrack and the sound design is really geared toward the young people having their experiences in the film and making sure the audience understands that the majority of these young people are working with vibration and pulse from sound,” she said. “I thought that was beautifully done.”

Walkup, 20, a former cheerleader and a 2020 graduate, said her favorite scene is when she visits Webster’s grave. Until the filming, she had not returned since the funeral two years earlier.

Advertisement

“I missed him tremendously, but it was so good to finally visit him again. We all talked to him and cried together,” she said. Webster, who transferred to a mainstream school for his sophomore year, died after being bullied, according to the documentary.

Weekend Watch

Weekend Watch

Weekly

Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.

Walkup is a second-year social work student at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and works as a lifeguard there.

Jennifer Yost Ortiz, interim chief educational programs officer for MSD, said the film deserved the Oscar nomination because of its worldwide impact.

“The opportunity to educate people about deaf culture is endless. Our state legislators have expressed support and sent their well wishes regarding the nomination,” she said. “This truly is a proud moment for Maryland, for the entire MSD community, and for the deaf community worldwide.”

Also nominated for the Oscar are “Lead Me Home,” about homelessness in West Coast cities; “The Queen of Basketball,” focusing on the only woman to be officially drafted by an NBA team; “Three Songs for Benazir,” which takes place in a displaced persons camp in Afghanistan, and “When We Were Bullies,” about a school bullying incident 50 years earlier.

After graduation, McKenstry-Hall moved to Indiana with a friend to pursue a professional football career, but that didn’t work out.

Advertisement

He tried out for the Deaflympics wrestling team, part of competition organized by the International Committee of Sports for the Deaf. He made the team and moved to Minnesota for training. He plans to attend community college in the fall in Rochester, Minnesota.

“Of course, I miss Maryland. It is my home. I was raised there, and my family is there. It will always hold a special place in my heart. I know it will still be there for me when I return,” he said.


Advertisement