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Sirens from a city street. The laughter of children. A text message notification. Sound comes in many forms, is ubiquitous, and informs our experience of life. What if an opportunity, however, existed to behold an entire day, from dawn to dusk, in complete silence? Or, on a larger scale, from birth to death?
Associate Professor of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts Allen Oren, a faculty member in the Department of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts since 1985, has brought that unique experience to the screen.
Oren highlights the beauty of quiet and “meaningful silences” in our world in his latest documentary, A Day in the Life of Silence, which premiered in earlier this year on WNYE and will continue to be shown on public television nationally throughout the spring and summer." The film guides viewers around the globe with beautiful images and quotes related to the importance of silence, and, appropriately, it consists of little to no audio.
This is quite a new approach for Oren, an Emmy award-winning producer whose professional background in journalism found him in mostly vociferous roles, in front of the camera or narrating. When video shutters are closed and lights are off, however, he returns to the state he also enjoys—silence.
“When we’re finally gone, we all share a certain kind of silence. But while we’re here, we’re partly defined by the silences we prefer.”
Although Oren does not consider himself an introvert, he has always had a personal connection with quietude. After college, he spent a year within the whispers of libraries as he read his way through history, and among his first journalism pieces, he visited a silent monastery for a week, and also profiled the peacefulness of a cemetery keeper. Throughout the film, Oren displays these destinations, alongside many others, as “silent friends” from his life.
A major aspect of his experience creating this documentary included learning how fellow humans from around the world experienced silence during the coronavirus pandemic and related quarantine. Some may have been distressed by the forced stillness; others restored. By viewing this film, we are given a lens to understanding how meaningful silence truly is to Oren, as well as reflect on its meaning and place in our own lives.
He said, “When we’re finally gone, we all share a certain kind of silence. But while we’re here, we’re partly defined by the silences we prefer.” As a filmmaker, Oren has received many Emmy nominations, including two for his first faith-based film, 18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre (2011), about Judaism’s sacred prayer. It aired on public television, as did another film, The Four Sons and All Their Sons: A Passover Tale, about a story told at the Passover Seder.
Oren plans to continue to produce films and speaks of an “ideas file” at home that he dives into quite often. Independent projects, however, tend to take a bit of time, and his work on A Day in the Life of Silence has only highlighted the importance of stillness in the creative process.
“I’ll savor this one in the meantime,” he said.