What is the role of sound and what does it mean to listen? See “The Tuba Thieves” on INDEPENDENT LENS – May 20 at 10 pm

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Unconventional Documentary Explores Sounds of Los Angeles from a d/Deaf/Hard of Hearing Perspective

Closing the Spring season of INDEPENDENT LENS documentaries, the unconventional sonic exploration “The Tuba Thieves” will premiere on May 20, 2024. Directed, written, and produced by hard of hearing filmmaker Alison O’Daniel, the film uses a series of tuba thefts in Los Angeles high schools as a jumping-off point to explore the nature of sound itself, through several d/Deaf people telling stories in the film equivalent of a game of telephone.

A brass instrument rests in a case. Credit:Meena Singh
A brass instrument rests in a case.
Credit:Meena Singh

“The Tuba Thieves” will debut on PBS’s INDEPENDENT LENS on Monday, May 20, 2024, at 10 p.m.  The film will be available to stream on the PBS App.

Between 2011 and 2013, tubas were stolen from high schools across Southern California. While reporters focused on the
thieves, O’Daniel was curious about the impact of the thefts on the students and school communities. She wondered how these thefts were altering the sound of the bands, which ultimately led her to question the role of sound itself and what it means to listen. In “The Tuba Thieves,” O’Daniel explores the question of sound, prioritizing a form of storytelling in which information collides and is allowed to be misunderstood. In prioritizing Deaf and hard of hearing communication, she generates new sensitivity to sound and meaning.

Los Angeles traffic Credit:Derek Howard
Los Angeles traffic
Credit:Derek Howard

“Music isn’t necessarily about listening, and hearing is not always an auditory experience,” said Director, Writer, and Producer Alison O’Daniel. “With the ‘The Tuba Thieves,’ I wanted to create a holistic exploration of musicality and the expansion of sound, with an eye towards both hearing and d/Deaf/hard of hearing audiences experiencing the story in similar ways.”

Throughout the film, we are introduced to Nyke Prince, a Deaf woman who is given a drum kit; Geovanny Marroquin, a high school saxophone player impacted by the tuba thefts; and Sam Quinones, an L.A. Times reporter seeking answers. Various Los Angeles musicians are also highlighted, performing in Deaf spaces and presenting concerts frequently (mis)interpreted as silent.

O’Daniel worked on the project for 11 years before premiering it at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. The film is bolstered by open captioning, which O’Daniel and two other hard of hearing team members worked on to create a more accessible audiovisual experience, expanding them to include more detail and creative sound description than typical films.

“‘The Tuba Thieves’ is a one-of-a-kind film and sonic experience,” said Lois Vossen, executive producer of INDEPENDENT LENS. “Alison O’Daniel has created a project that pushes us to think beyond our own perspective and uses music, sound, and open captions to show, not just tell, the stories of Nyke, Geovanny, and the curious tuba thefts.”