CODA Director Sian Heder on how the film could have been R rated

It was the surprise hit of this year’s Sundance. Sian Heder’s CODA walked away with the festival’s Audience Award, Directing Award, Grand Jury Prize and an award for its ensemble cast. And then it was scooped up by Apple TV. Now the film makes its debut on the streaming service, as well as in selected cinemas, this Friday. And for Heder, the whole experience has been “everything I could have hoped for.”

The film centres on Ruby (Emilia Jones), the CODA – child of deaf adults – of the title. Theirs is a fishing family, so she accompanies her father and brother (both deaf) as they trawl the local waters. She’s essential to the family and the business as their interpreter, their single connection to the outside world, but it’s a responsibility that takes its toll. When she joins the choir, she discovers a real talent for singing, one that her teacher is convinced could take her to a specialist college. But Ruby is pulled in two directions – a longing to follow her own path and develop her talent and her love for her family, who could be lost without her.

The film is Heder’s second feature – her first, Tallulah, debuted at Sundance in 2016 – and CODA’s reception at this year’s festival has been “really exciting.” Talking to The People’s Movies’ Freda Cooper in the interview below, she describes how making the film “changed me as a human being and as a creative person” and how she bonded with the cast in a way she hadn’t experienced before.

She describes the actors who play the family – Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant – as “incredible, not just as actors but as human beings.” Kotsur and Daniel, both of whom are deaf, lived in the small fishing town where the shoot took place and got to know the local fishing community. What she remembers most is that everybody had a great sense of humour – Troy especially. “He’s so funny,” she says. “He’s such an amazing improviser and signer and would have us all in pieces in absolutely every scene. He would do something different and crazy each time. I’d have to reel him in because we’d have been rated R if he’d kept going in the direction he was going!”

CODA is released in cinemas and on Apple TV+ on 13th August. | Read our review of CODA.