Oscar-nominated 'Feeling Through' breaks barriers with deaf-blind lead

NEW YORK -- A short film nominated for an Oscar this year is breaking barriers.

"Feeling Through" is the first movie ever to feature a man who is both deaf and blind in the lead role. It was made on the streets of New York City, with the help of the Helen Keller National Center.

I've done a lot of Zoom interviews since the pandemic began, but talking to both the director and star of this movie ranks as the most moving of all of them -- and Doug Roland's short film packs more punch than most Hollywood blockbusters.

That's because Robert Tarango makes history without saying a word.

Talking to him via Zoom requires the services of two interpreters, but his response to my question about experiencing the film for the first time was very clear.

"I think the first time I saw it on the big screen, my heart burst," he said. "I could not believe that this was the first time a deaf-blind person was on screen. I just sat back and thought, 'Wow, just wow.'"

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Before he lost his sight in his mid-30s, Tarango dreamed of being an actor. He was inspired by Marlee Matlin, the first -- and so far only -- deaf performer ever to win an Oscar.

When she saw "Feeling Through," Matlin signed on as executive producer.

"I had to get it out there," she said. "I had to get the news out there about this film to anyone who would be willing to watch it on my behalf, because it so touched me."

The film is based on a real encounter Roland had with a deaf-blind person in the East Village a decade ago. He had searched in vain to reconnect with Artemio Tavares, and he finally found the Bronx man after filming was over.

The filmmaker found Tarango washing dishes in the kitchen of the Helen Keller Center.

"His energy, his charisma, and his heart were so apparent the moment he walked in the room," Roland said. "Really, it was one of those moments when instantly I was like, this is totally our guy.'"

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Oscar nominations were announced a couple of weeks ago, a time when even the biggest stars in the world cross their fingers and try to keep calm.

Alongside Steven Prescod, who plays the man Tarango meets, the authentic story of human connection is told in less than half an hour.

"What I want more than anything is for people who are blind or hearing or sighted or deaf, whatever your disabilities are or abilities are, that we can all work together."

"Feeling Through" is one of five films competing for an Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short Film category. The Oscars will air on Sunday, April 25, on this ABC station.

Mark your calendars: April 25 is Oscar Sunday. Live coverage begins Sunday morning and continues all day with special "On The Red Carpet" coverage leading up to the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. After the last award is handed out, stay with "On The Red Carpet" for continuing coverage. Be sure to follow @OnTheRedCarpet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for all your Oscar news and information.
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