a year and a half ago, John Ahlbach passed along a script for a half hour film
on stuttering called "Voice Is Exile." It was written by Mark Kaplan,
a student at the Americas Film Institute's Center for Advanced Studies is Los
didn't know much about Mark, except someone told me he had a stuttering problem
and he was producing the film through the AFI.
was encouraging. After all, hardly anyone in the arts has ever dealt with
stuttering in any real way. Sure, there was the hero in Herman Melville's Billy
Budd. He stuttered. But that was incidental to the story. And although Somerset
Maugham's book Of Human Bondage was about a boy (himself) who stuttered, he
disguised the problem by giving the boy a clubfoot instead. So it didn't really
read through the script with interest. After all, practically every human
problem has been dealt with on film except stuttering. I wondered whether
someone could really do it justice in a half hour. The script seemed good, but
as I've come to learn, scripts can be deceiving. So much can happen between the
words on the page and the final film. It's hard to tell what's really in the
mind of the director. And there's so way to really know how good a director is
until you see his finished product.
reed the script and shelved II away In my mind. I forgot about "Voice Is
Exile" and Mark Allen Kaplan until I went down to L.A. with John for our
the way," John said on the plane, "Sunday night before we fly beck
we're going over to the American Film Institute to see 'Voice in Exile.'
can only give you a sense of my anticipation as I sat in the Mark Goodson
Theater at he AFI waiting for "Voice in Exile" to begin. It
was as if the world were about to learn my innermost secrets. I was vulnerable.
Perhaps because I was identifying with Mark, I felt as if I were going public
with my most painful thoughts and feelings. I wondered how the audience would
react, and whether they would really understand, it was not a large theater, and
everyone wan obviously a friend or Mark's. And yet...l looked at the faces
story is relatively simple. Alan Woodward is a teenage who stutters. He is
afraid. He hides from life. He is the butt of his classmate's humor. (God, that
was painful to watch.)
parents care about him, but they really don't understand. But Alas has one
person who does understand: his grandfather. Theirs is a close and intimate
over a game of chess, Alan's grandfather has a heart attack.
get tense. His grandfather is scheduled to receive an award from his college. He
obviously will not be well enough to accept it. In halting speech from his hospital bed, he points to
Alan..."You accept it for me."
is torn. Should he run' should he stay and fight? His parents are not
encouraging; they see only his weaknesses. They are afraid for him, and,
perhaps, for themselves.
must have been great temptation for Mark Kaplan to reach for a cliché ending.
But Mark did not succumb. I'm not going to ruin it for you by giving away the
story. But I will say that -the movie is resolved 00 realistically and movingly
that by the time the lights went on, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater.
Allan Kaplan really carried it off. He's produced the first film on stuttering
that tells the story from the inside with all the intensity and power of a real
life experience. "Voice in Exile" is a film that gives a non-
stuttering person a true sense of what it is like to live with a stuttering
the first bit of good news.
second bit is that in several months "Voice in Exile' will be available on
videotape as well us 16mm. if you write the NSA, we'll tell you how to get your
own personal copy.
all the ways this film could be used.
can show it to their students and make all that textbook information meaningful
can show it whenever we make a presentation to an uniformed audience. Now, when
we talk about stuttering, people will understand the seriousness of the problem.
you're raising money for the NSA, this film will put stuttering in terms people
can relate to.
finally, we have something to show Is legislators who think stuttering cannot be
so debilitating as, say, deafness, it can help stuttering to receive its fair
share of government aid.
third piece of good news is that "Voice in Exile" has won a major
price at the San Francisco Film Festival. It will be shown at the Palace of Pine
Arts in S.F. at 8:00 on April 21st. If you are in the area, come see it.
I say, this is one hell of a film.
a postscript. At reception after the showing, I chatted with Benjamin Bottoms
who played Alan. (You guessed right. He's the younger brother of Timothy
Bottoms.) It seems Ben received terrific coaching from several speech
pathologists, including NSP board member Mark Powers. He also received more
first hand experiences from the enthusiastic gang at the NSP's Orange County
(CA) Chapter where Ben attended a meeting. Then to really prepare himself for
the part, Ben went out into downtown Los Angeles and took on the real life role
of someone who stutters. He went into stores and restaurants and spoke with
severe speech blocks. He stopped people on the street to ask the t-t-t-time. He
delayed buses while he popped questions to the driver. Imagine doing all this on
purpose (He's one committed actor).
the real star in Mark Allan Kaplan who had a dream and made it happen. This is a
real Hollywood production. Yet, Mark was able to produce the film over two years
on a remarkably small budget. Not only did he raise all the necessary funds, he
also enlisted the services of a small army of film professionals in Los Angles
who donated weeks and months of their time.
Mark! You're a real pioneer. And you're obviously on your way to a brilliant