A deaf Kurdish boy belatedly discovers the simple joys of communication in Edward Lovelace’s moving and politically prescient documentary portrait.
Retooling a template used for The Possibilities are Endless, the wonderful and affirmative 2014 portrait of Scottish new wave singer-songwriter, Edwyn Collins, filmmaker Edward Lovelace turns his camera to teenage Kurdish refugee Lawand for a similarly-inclined investigation into a triumph against physiological and – in this instance – political adversity.
One might think that provisions for deaf people would be bountiful across the globe, with sign language a cost-effective resource to ensure widespread and simple communication between all. Not so in Iraq, where Lawand and his family are destined for pariah status as their then-five-year-old son is born without the ability to hear. There is no state apparatus to help Lawand, and his parents are worried of reprisals if they deign to rock this precarious political boat.
Name Me Lawand is a film documenting the protagonist’s slow but steady adoption of BSL (British Sign Language) when the family move to the UK, specifically Derby, as asylum seekers. He is inducted into the Royal School for the Deaf, and his endlessly-empathetic tutor Sophie takes on the task of helping him, for the first time in his life, express his thoughts, feelings and memories, as well as reflect with a measure of casual distance on his own tumultuous young life.
Lovelace is patient in the way he documents the process of learning a new language from scratch, and Lawand himself makes for an inquisitive young scholar. Yet aside from learning this life-enhancing technique, the most moving episodes are when he’s outside with classmates just idly conversing and seeing if anyone is free for a kickabout. The film asks us, too, to consider our own lives and the things in it we might take for granted: not just the ability to freely communicate with others, but certainly for western viewers, relative freedom of thought and expression.
When Lawand becomes more confident in his recollections, we are shown details of his hellish, year-long journey from Iraq to the UK with time spent in destitution, holding camps and general dire straights. This context adds to the size of his and his family’s achievement, and the film does not try to whip up undue sentiment from this heart-rending situation.
One thing that might rankle with UK viewers is its depiction of this country in which asylum seekers are not only welcomed with open arms, but are given an opportunity for costly rehabilitation – a story that doesn’t chime with the current state of xenophobic tabloid headlines and rise in pig-headed isolationism and white nationalism. And yet, the real Blighty does show its true colours later on, when Lawand and his family, after all they’ve been through, are placed in the sightlines for deportation, and the film becomes a call for BSL to be recognised as an official language.
It’s a gentle, moving work that tamps down the usual hysteria and emotion-guiding musical cues in an attempt to focus on the interior process of rehabilitation. It feels as if Lovelace is honing this formal conceit, and hopefully we will see further iterations of it in the future.
Published 4 Jul 2023
New film from the maker of the excellent The Possibilities Are Endless.
A hopeful portrait of a deaf refugee learning to communicate for the first time.
A heartening tale told with poise and empathy, but with deep political undercurrents.