CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Diana Zuros’ feature film, Since August, isn’t the most original story from a plot standpoint. However, it is about as fresh of a take on trauma, grief, and loss as you’re going to get. It’s also why independent filmmakers can often eclipse anything the big studios have to offer.
Since August opens with Elizabeth (Sabina Akhmedova) lying in her bed at a rehabilitation center. We then jump back several weeks to see how we got there as Elizabeth stands at her window sill peering into Vedette’s (Antoinette Abbamonte) apartment. For all we know, Elizabeth and Vedette are strangers, but what piques Elizabeth’s interest is Vedette is hearing-impaired and speaks only through American Sign Language (ASL). Elizabeth quickly learns ASL by watching YouTube videos and observing Vedette through her binoculars.
Elizabeth then engages in other stalkery behavior by following Vedette around town as she shops and attends improv class. One day, she makes the bold move and speaks with Vedette. The naive Vedette accepts Elizabeth’s advancements as genuine, and the two become fast friends. Elizabeth reveals that she is an addict, which bodes well for Vedette, who has been in recovery for quite some time. Vedette helps Elizabeth by becoming a sponsor to her, of sorts. But what are Elizabeth’s true intentions?
“Elizabeth then engages in other stalkery behavior by following Vedette around town…”
So let’s talk about the most unique element of Since August, and that is the story is told predominantly in sign language, but not in the way you’d expect. It’s not merely replacing a dialogue-dense script and translating it into sign language. In fact, I’d say seventy percent of the film is without words and takes the adage, “Show. Don’t tell!” to the extreme.
The majority of the film is performance-based. Leads Akhmedova and Abbamonte say most of their lines through body language and facial expressions. The actual sign language is minimal, as if the filmmaker knows using one’s body is another way to communicate feelings and emotions. No, this is not a performance piece, but it’s authentic in how we speak without words. The acting is aided only by a haunted cello, and strings score behind it.
The story behind Since August is like an onion, and its layers are peeled back over time. Writer/director Diana Zuros explores issues of addiction through the lens of loss while at the same time telling a story of forgiveness and redemption. Taking a nod from AA, the road to recovery is one that can not be walked alone, as Elizabeth and Vedette share much in common, particularly their trauma. Like all good cinema, we care a lot about this friendship, and then it’s tested. If there is a negative, the story moves slowly, and for obvious reasons, it has an almost quiet and serene tone.
There will be a great deal of buzz surrounding Since August as it’s a film spoken primarily in ASL. What I like is that it’s more than that. ASL is by far only one of the ways the actors communicate and a testament to Zuros for pushing the boundaries of storytelling and continuing to make independent filmmaking great.
Since August screened at the 2023 Cinequest Film Festival.
"…[the actors] say most of their lines through body language and facial expressions."