Benjamin Piwko: Why hearing people also benefit from sign language


Writed by - Andy Gocker
  Benjamin Piwko: Why hearing people also benefit from sign language
'You shall hear': Simon Ebert (Benjamin Piwko) and his family are supported by a large demo in front of the court. © ZDF / Silviu Guiman, SpotOn

TV film 'Thou shalt hear'

In the film 'You shall hear' (September 19, 8:15 p.m., ZDF), the deaf actor Benjamin Piwko (42) plays a father who is faced with a difficult decision:

Two-year-old Mila Ebert (Delia Pfeffer) is deaf. During an examination in the hospital, it is found that her auditory nerve is developed. With the insertion of a cochlear implant (hearing prosthesis) and appropriate support, she would have the chance of a 'normal' life. But Mila's parents, who are also deaf - Simon and Conny Ebert (Anne Zander, born 1988) - refuse an operation. They don't see Mila's hearing loss as an illness or disability. The hospital then turns on the youth welfare office and the case goes to court. Judge Jolanda Helbig (Claudia Michelsen, 53) must now decide whether Mila has a right to hear …

In an interview with the news agency spot on news, Benjamin Piwko explains how he would like viewers to react to the film. He also talks about the shooting, in which deaf and hearing filmmakers worked together.

What was your first reaction when you found out about the film? And what reactions would you like to see from the viewers?

Benjamin Piwko: I was approached a few years ago with this idea for the screenplay. I was very happy that this topic was filmed. I would like the television audience to deal with the subject of deafness. Because we are many. And it's important to open up to that.

The film asks if it's time to say deaf instead of deaf. What do you make of it?

Piwko: For me it doesn't matter whether it's deaf or deaf. I find it much more important that we deal with things like access to information, subtitles and being different.

Sign language has been an officially recognized language since 2002. Should this language take place more in public?

Piwko: Sign language is the oldest language in the world. All peoples communicated in signs before the first word existed. That shouldn't be forgotten. Sign language is a beautiful language that children also love to use. It encourages and frees the spirit. Especially in this noisy world, hearing people could also benefit from it. Because you can use it to communicate in very noisy environments and even at a distance. In many countries it is already a matter of course and is also used by many hearing people.

The production could also have cast hearing actors for the roles of the deaf. But she hasn't. What do you make of it?

Piwko: Every actor has to be able and allowed to act anything. In that case, I'm happy that Anne and I played it. Sign language is our mother tongue. It's in our blood.

How can you imagine working on the set? Did you always have interpreters with you? Or were the individual scenes particularly thoroughly prepared?

Piwko: We had interpreters and prepared and tested a lot. But I can also get by on the set without an interpreter. I read lips and can work independently. In general, I see an increasing interest in sign language. That makes me very happy and connects, whether it's a 'good morning' or a 'bon appetit'.

The film shows some not entirely uncomplicated everyday situations or moments in which the hearing sister has to help your film wife. Do you have situations like this too? And if so, do you find it difficult to ask for help?

Piwko: I learned early on how to be independent. Of course there are situations in which I need help. For example, I can't make phone calls. When it comes to things like this, I need an ear to help me communicate quickly. I try to do as much as possible myself, but sometimes it's just not that easy.

A lot of people are afraid of doing something wrong when they meet someone with a handicap - or a 'superpower' as you call it. What advice can you give them along the way?

Piwko: I recommend not being afraid. Just be as uninhibited as children are. We train the children from an early age to approach people openly and ask questions. It says 'come here, don't ask, don't look'. I recommend the opposite: Let's break down these hurdles again.

The film deals, among other things, with the question of whether a little girl should have a cochlear implant or not. What do you think of this technique?

Piwko: Like every technique that happens operationally, it involves risks. Therefore, this question is very difficult to answer. At the age of twelve, I was given the choice of whether I wanted a CI or not. I have decided against it. Everyone should be able to make this decision for themselves.

You have also played in 'Tatort'. At that time, too, it was about CI, among other things. What other topic is similarly polarizing among the deaf and would perhaps also be suitable for a film or a series?

Piwko: You should talk to the deaf about it and start a conversation. There are many topics that concern us, too many to list here. But it's time to find out this time around and maybe film it too.

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