"Those Who Come, Will Hear" speaks loudly for indigenous languages at the Ann Arbor Film Fest


Those Who Come, Will Hear film still

The best thing a film about languages can do is let the speakers speak for themselves.

Those Who Come, Will Hear, a Canadian documentary that shines a spotlight on several indigenous languages of Quebec, not only gives voice to languages that are endangered (such as Innu-aimun and Inuttitut) but also deftly illustrates how language is so tightly woven to culture and tradition. (The film is one of the 10 features in competition at this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival.)

The focus of much of the film is on listening, and at times the screen will fade to black while a 100-year-old recording of a native song plays. Most of the film is subtitled in English. There are a few scenes, though, in which not every word is translated, but the viewer still understands: schoolchildren learning new vocabulary, a stop sign in a non-Roman script, a church service. All serve to focus the viewer on listening and realizing these languages as alive -- yet changing.

In one scene, an older man and a young woman are looking at a map and he asked her to read part of the map to him. But she said she couldn’t “because it is in Naskapi,” the language in which they were conversing, but a script that only he was able to read. Earlier, an older woman was asked if she would use a particular word to describe smelling a flower. She had to consider it carefully before finally answering, “I’ll think about it and tell you next week.”

One can’t help but come away from Those Who Come, Will Hear with a new sense of language, tradition, what binds it all together, and what is lost through the generations. On the one hand, there are the elders who lament their difficulties communicating with their grandchildren, while on the other, there are the young people studying and trying hard to learn their cultural language. The film passes no judgments, allowing the speakers to speak, and those who come to listen to hear.

Crysta Coburn is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library, freelance writer, editor, and author.

"Those Who Come, Will Hear" will be shown at the Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty Rd., Ann Arbor, on Friday, March 23, at 5 pm. Click here for a full list of the 10 features in competition at this year's Ann Arbor Film Festival. For a 15% discount, enter the code AAFF56_AADL when you purchase tickets.