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Voice In Exile

Letting Go: The Newsletter of the National Stuttering Association

April, 1985, Vol.5, No.4

By John Harrison  

About 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 Angeles.

I didn't know much about Mark, except someone told me he had a stuttering problem and he was producing the film through the AFI.

That 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 count.

I 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.

I 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 L.A. convention.

'By 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.'

I 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 wondering.

The 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.)

His 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 relationship.

Then over a game of chess, Alan's grandfather has a heart attack.

Things 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."

Alan 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.

There 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.

Mark 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 problem.

That's the first bit of good news.

The 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.

Imagine all the ways this film could be used.

Teachers can show it to their students and make all that textbook information meaningful and alive.

We 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.

If you're raising money for the NSA, this film will put stuttering in terms people can relate to.

And 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.

The 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.

Like I say, this is one hell of a film.

Now, 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).

But 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.

Congratulations, Mark! You're a real pioneer. And you're obviously on your way to a brilliant film career.  

Letting Go: The Newsletter of the National Stuttering Association, April, 1985, Vol.5, No.4 , By John Harrison  


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VOICE IN EXILE is a motion picture production of

The American Film Institute Center for Advanced Film Studies

Distributed by Original Gravity

© American Film Institute

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