Deaf Director Honored by Student Academy

March 3, 2006 — -- Kaaren Caplan cried "a million tears" when she learned her 2-year-old daughter, Kimby, was deaf in one ear and could barely hear in the other. But Kaaren said she cries even more now because she is so proud of how much Kimby has accomplished.

In June, Kimby won a bronze medal in the Student Academy Awards for her film "Listen," which documents her journey of learning to articulate. She now dreams of one day winning an Oscar.

"There are possibilities for beautiful things to happen and to teach our children to have the courage to reach for the stars," Kaaren said. "Maybe they won't get to the stars, but maybe they'll get to the moon."

Unconventional Upbringing

When doctors told Kaaren her daughter was legally deaf, they said she would never learn to speak and the state requested Kimby be enrolled in a residential school for the deaf and blind.

But Kaaren refused to let go of her daughter. She wanted to provide Kimby with a good life, even if that life was deemed strange to outsiders.

After Kimby's parents divorced when she was in the first grade, she moved with her mother to the mountains of New Mexico, living in a tent for years until a log cabin was built.

"We didn't have running water or electricity," Kimby said. "What I remember about it is that we had this little clearing with a wrought-iron stove right outside. My mother would boil water on there and fill it up in hot-water bottles, and I'd take them and go straight to sleep just hugging them."

Kimby walked miles every day to catch a bus ride to school, where children were not always sympathetic to her disability.

"Kids would just run up and grab it [my hearing aid]," Kimby said.

At home, Kaaren was questioned about the way she was raising her daughter.

"I did come under a lot of attack for the lifestyle I chose," Kaaren said. "I was visited by a child protection agency [representative] who questioned the way we were living in the tent. My intention always was to give her a world in which she was free to explore and to find her own limitations."

"You know, I didn't have a TV," Kimby said. "I didn't have children to play with. So I certainly turned the trees and rocks into playmates."

Coming Down the Mountain

Kimby eventually left the mountains and her mother for college. She majored in film and won a handful of awards before graduating and getting a master's in communication. While pursuing her graduate degree, she filmed a documentary about her life called "Listen." It included footage of Kimby having her hearing tested when she was 2 years old.

"The underlying theme to me is that no matter how disabled you might be perceived, you can still overcome that obstacle," Kimby said.

She entered "Listen" in a handful of film festivals and was honored with a bronze medal.

"I dedicate my life to trying to make films that will go toward eliminating the barriers of silence that exist between us," Kimby said in her acceptance speech. "By acknowledging this film, you're acknowledging the power that a voice can make, and the difference that it can achieve when it's expressed."