Silence & Darkness is the 2020 drama/thriller film that follows blind and deaf sisters, Anna and Beth, who live with their father in a secluded town and start to realize their father may have ill intentions.

The writer/director of Silence & Darkness Barak Barkan spoke with Borrowing Tape writer Nace DeSanders on various elements of the filmmaking process. The film is now available to watch via VOD and digital platforms now.

Listen to our podcast episode and/or read the transcript, which has been edited and condensed for clarity:
Hi, everyone! I am Nace DeSanders and I am here with the writer, director of Silence & Darkness, Barak Barkan. Silence & Darkness is a 2020 drama and thriller about two sisters, one blind and one deaf who come to realize their father may be a source of danger, instead of safety. Welcome, Barak.

Thank you. I like your description.

I'm glad. So, let's jump in. This was your first feature film, congratulations! For the aspiring filmmakers tuning in, can you tell us something that you learned on this project?

Oh, so much. But I mean, yeah, like you said — it's my first feature film. I think what you really learn is trying to figure out how to tell a story over the length of 75, 80, 90 minutes. I think a big thing is also that you're doing every scene and also in shorts, but in this film in particular, what I learned a lot was introducing the space to the audience. So, the house, the yard, the town, and kind of like building that out, and revealing that, and making sure that the viewer's never really confused as to where we are at any given moment. Where in shorts, you're telling a very contained story that normally takes, at least my shorts kind of normally took place really in one place, mostly either in an apartment or a single room. And here, because so much of the story unfolds in and around the house. Then there was this notion of having to also establish the geography of where they sleep, and where [the] father sleeps, and where they hang out. Like just kind of orienting the space. So, that's something I learned.

Film still from Silence & Darkness (2020)
Oh okay, well that's something that a lot of people wouldn't think of. It's definitely important. Yeah. So, for both your main actors and, Mina Walker and Joan Black, this was also their first feature film, how was it working with newer actors?

Amazing. I mean, they're both pretty experienced even though, yeah, it was their first feature film, but they've done plenty of projects beforehand and they're just incredibly talented. I mean, that's all I could hope for and it just made my job easier casting them.

That sounds great! So definitely the way the two sisters interact is one of the most interesting things to see earlier on in the film. Do you know a blind/deaf duo in real life? How did you go about writing that?

So personally, I mean, I do have friends and family who are either blind or hard of hearing, but not people that necessarily interact with each other. As far as how we went about it, the story we built, I built it out. But in terms of their interaction — we invented this language. Then after I'd written the script, I delved further into research and found that there are these two women who are both deaf/blind and they created a language, I think around 2012 or 2013 called ProTactile which they called it a language that reflects their culture and community, which I love. I love that. They have a blog that you can follow along, and they speak to each other, and there's texts that kind of that we can all follow along.

When I say we invented, it was very much Mina and Joan. I had the idea that this would be a language based on physical contact that had the idea of how I wanted it to look. But, when we went through the script and went through the actual dialogue, and they just kind of took it and ran with it and kind of made it into their own. But, one thing I really love about these two women who invented the ProTactile language was the notion of affirmation from the listener. So, when the person is talking, the person listening is constantly tapping them on the shoulder, leg, whatever, and kind of affirming that, yes, I'm with you. Yes, I'm in this conversation. So, I love that. And I said, okay, that's the one thing we should kind of steal and use. Because I like this idea that you guys are talking to each other, but we want this dialogue to be dynamic and engaging and that was something that made a lot of sense to me too.

Yeah, it is really interesting. And definitely at, throughout the film, I was thinking that, because obviously, this isn't something that on the day-to-day I would normally think of. So, seeing when they interact made me think... Oh, that makes sense. Oh, of course!

Right. It was both just for me, engaging as a subject matter, in so many different ways. But also from the storytelling point of view was something that I was very excited about trying to use — to create tension through the viewer not knowing what they were saying to each other, and kind of only having to piece it together when you see the action that precedes it. So, you see them talking, and then you see them doing something. So kinda, you can say, "Okay, so they're doing this, then I guess this was the discussion happening beforehand." And when you build that out throughout the film, the idea was to kind of as things get weirder, then you're kind of more engaged into, "Wait, what are they saying? And then, so what are they going to do?"

Film still from Silence & Darkness (2020)
Yeah. No, I definitely liked that — that it wasn't spoonfed with subtitles underneath the whole time.

Right. Exactly. Even ASL, we didn't give subtitles for one character speaking in ASL. It's very much of a movie that either you know it or you don't know it. And if you don't know it, hopefully, it doesn't take you out of it. It just gets you more engaged in what's happening on the screen and gets you more focused.

Definitely. Definitely. So the father character studies his daughter like specimens almost while we as audience members, essentially because of that movie audience dynamic — we're doing the same thing. Was this an intentional parallel? And if so, why was it important to include?

I mean, definitely intentional. Again, I think I don't like giving away too much about the father. I'll say this again, but I'll say when writing and figuring out what the story is, essentially that they live in his worldview — the entire construction of how Anna and Beth live is based of [of] the father's world view. Now, I know what his worldview is. Then I just decided that I want to throw the audience into this world, and not give them all the answers, and kind of sprinkled breadcrumbs throughout. It's a risk and I know we're used to telling stories in a certain way. But, I love films that kind of sometimes tend to challenge that. Like you said, it was my first film. We made it on an extremely low budget, so I kind of allowed myself to take these creative risks. So anyway, the whole idea of them living under his worldview, I think it feeds into both how the narrative unfolds, and then also in terms of just the various themes that we were kind of exploring in this movie.

Hmm. That's very interesting. So, films almost always never stay the same from writing to directing, to editing. Did the film turn out exactly how you pictured when you were writing it? And if not, how is it altered?

So, not exactly, obviously. What I learned a lot is that this is a slow film for sure, but it was even then — there were versions that were even slower. I'll say that and you kind of figure out — okay, the pacing here has to pick up at certain points. There's only so much that you can see these two girls hanging out in a house. For the most part, it remained the same — plot-wise and all the different turning points. Those kind of came at the beats, similar to that were on the page. There were little things. The actors — they bring both a whole new texture when you're seeing it unfold, and then also coming up with ideas. There were moments I would say that were improvised in a sense that they weren't on the script, but we would think like, okay, we're missing something here, sit with the actors, and kind of figure out what we could do, to kind of cement certain moments in the movie, and then just shoot it.

That's super cool. So what was it like working with Cinematographer Omar Nasr on the film's look?

Oh my God. Omar's amazing. He's a true genius. I've worked with him on short films. He was either a gaffer and then a cinematographer on my thesis film in film school. We just have that rapport, and he's just one of those people that is able to do so much with so little, which I think that's what this whole movie is. We were a five-person crew on this shoot. I mean, he was one man. But, everybody was a one-person department head. So, he's the entire camera department of the film. Although Pablo — who is also a producer — was a great gaffer as well. But anyway, the great strength that he has is manipulating natural light and utilizing natural light to its fullest.

So, when you're on such limited resources and you're shooting an entire film with three lights, two of which he built himself from materials that he went and bought at Home Depot, is pretty incredible and just shows the level of talent that he has of just maximizing and creating this look. The process in terms of staging and composition, was me and him going through every line of the script, putting together an entire shot list. And then, we storyboarded the entire film. We had the storyboards on set with us every day, and if there was ever any confusion, we're able to just look at the storyboards and be like, "Okay that's the shot." Like, that's what it looks like. So, it saved the whole conversation.

Film still from Silence & Darkness (2020)
Hmm. So, how long did shooting take?

18 days. It was six days on, one day off. I think maybe there was some kind of mixture in there in the middle, but, 18 days shoot.

Wow. That is quick!

Yeah! No, we had plenty of time, and I think for those that hopefully watch the film. It's one of these films where you hang on for takes for a very long time. It's not that we didn't shoot coverage, but it was definitely one of these decisions that we want to focus on the one-shot that tells the story of the scene, and not shoot 15 different angles.

So, we had a lot of time. I felt like I had a lot of time to just play and have fun and really delve into performances once we had our frame. And we said, we know one to two, or maybe three angles are at the scene. The only scene where you get real coverages are dinner scenes, and any director I think just loves/hates shooting those. Because you're just covering all the different eyelines all the time, and making sure that you're going to be able to cut from one person to the other, and not have it feel strange.

Yeah. Great. So, the film was shot in Vermont. How was shooting up there? It didn't seem very cold. So, were you shooting in summer or...?

Shot in spring, which is mud season there. We shot in Central Vermont Mad River Valley. It's just a beautiful little hidden spot in the middle of Vermont. Most people I think go to Burlington or go to different places kind of more in the South, but this place is just unbelievable. I've shot a few projects up there. So, it was great to get to shoot a movie up there. Yeah, I mean as far as weather overall — I think the actors would say that it was cold. I think there was a lot of me making them go out in the kind of cold, wet grass in the backyard. It might've been warm then, but it just rained before. But overall, I think we were lucky. I think there were moments — there were three days where there was a cloud hanging over the house, and literally, you went out the driveway and it wasn't raining, but once you came into where we were filming, it was raining. And I was just like, "Great, The production cloud is upon us." And we just had to wait for it to pass. For the most part, we were utilizing the weather, I think to our advantage.

Great. Which films or directors have influenced you as a filmmaker, but also the film, Silence & Darkness?

So many...all of them. No, I think as far as just in general, it's very hard for me to separate also the films from the process of the filmmakers. And, I kind of appreciate both equally. So, the list that I've been rattling off are Kubrick, obviously. Yorgos Lanthimos, I think those influences are pretty clear.

Yeah. And then, also Lynne Ramsay —  she's the master of tone. I grew up in Israel — both exposed to American cinema and then also European cinema. Coppola is another huge influence, but then there's Emir Kusturica and François Ozon - who are filmmakers that I think at an early age. I just watched their films and those are films that kind of made me go like, "Oh, you can do anything in movies". Watching their films and not knowing how they're going to end, which is what I love.

That's awesome. So, do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about?

I can't really get into too many specifics. I've been here in Israel for almost a year and have been developing a mini-series with a writing partner of mine. Again, everything is moving so slow, you know with COVID. So, hopefully, vaccines are distributed quickly, and handling that they work and we can all back to normal. And then, I do have another feature that I've written and would love to get it made. It's set in New York. I'd love to get back to New York and film there. So yes, hopefully, those happen.

Awesome. Thank you so much for your time today.

Thank you. Thank you. And I say, I appreciate it. And good luck with your films. I know that you're also a filmmaker.

Oh, thank you.

So, I'm excited to see your films.