What stops a father and son from being able to talk?
What stops any family or friends from being able to talk? How do we fall into patterns of nonexistent or superficial conversation with those we love? In Radio Silence, Duncan Cowles explores his relationship with his father, and attempts to understand the pattern of unspoken communication that has become the norm. His genuine and heartfelt approach to learning more about his father naturally brings the viewer to reflect on their own communication practices. Through Cowles raw storytelling, shared moments of longing for the connections that make us feel human surge forward and a nostalgic, emotional tone emerges.
The story in Radio Silence compels the viewer to reflect on their own relationships with loved ones. At the beginning, Cowles clearly articulates his wish to understand his father through the production of the video. Moving through the story, subtle themes surface that develop the story. Finding similarity in father and son, Cowles shows footage of both 'fiddling' with things: his father with old radios and himself with his video equipment. Showing the process of making the video is a clever parallel with the development of his understanding of his father. Sifting through the footage and snapshots of his life, a story emerges and evolves, much as producing and editing a video can.
Cowles straightforward tone is relatable, and his voice is original and honest. Taking a creative but direct approach in telling the story strips away any sense of overproduction or orchestration. The length of the story is just right; allowing enough time to develop a sense of characters and an understanding of their relationship. Much of the footage takes a 'slice of life' approach and features everyday interactions of eating breakfast, cleaning the car windos, and driving. Unstaged environments and authentic places take the backdrop of any commentary. Without becoming too much like a documentary, this story documents Cowles process of learning through his reflection on the experience.
The research that Cowles put in is evident in his interviews with extended family and impressive quality of video and photo from generations past. Personally, I don't have much photo documentation of my parents youth, and Cowles access to the wide variety of media including video is really impactful. More recent video interviews with family members demonstrate Cowles ability to successfully uncover the underlying and unspoken emotion that is buried beneath years of silence.
While I have briefly mentioned the quality of media in my critique of Radio Silence, I did not make media a focus for my reflection on this digital story. However, it is worthwhile to mention the thoughtful use of audio in the production of the video. Most scenes lack of background music adds to the overall theme of silence, and occasional outbursts of music punctuate the sometimes awkward silence. Overall, this was a very thoughful and authentic story that compels the viewer to reflect on their own life and find ways to communicate in a more genuine way.