PARK CITY, Utah – Professional skier and filmmaker Robin Gillon, nicknamed Bino, is a man of many talents. He has seen great success in his professional skiing career as one of the top skiers from Europe, but his life hasn’t always been easy, as he was also born deaf.
Gillon’s first film, Sound of Silence, garnered 13 international awards, over 30 film festival selections, and was featured by the likes of Red Bull and others. The documentary covers the tragic and difficult experiences he overcame growing up in Switzerland as a deaf person singled out and excluded because he was different. Through talking about what he has endured, the film also shows his introduction and connection to skiing as it changed his life, becoming his safe space and future career.
Among the responses, he received from the film was the question, “what does he hear” as Gillon can only hear roughly 20% of what’s around him without hearing aids. The question became the spark for his next film, What It’s Like, which had its U.S. premiere at Woodward Park City on Friday.
Communication has always been a challenge for Gillon. Even with hearing aids, he can only hear about 50% of what a non-deaf person would hear. His new film takes the viewer on a journey of what it’s like to be him. A key moment in the early part of the film shows him skiing in the backcountry deep in the powdery snow. He then pops into the corner of the frame and provides narration prompting the question of what he hears at that moment while pausing the action. The film then rewinds to the beginning repeating the scene at a volume similar to what he would hear, giving an eye-opening viewer experience.
The film features a number of athletes, including Olympic Medalist Nick Goepper. There is a straightforward narrative showcasing the friends Gillon’s gained through skiing and the life it has given him.
“At the film’s end, I return the question by asking what it is like to be you. What is your misfortune? What are your challenges? I’m glad I got to return that question because I hope people realize that even though I have these problems, look at me; I’m doing it. I’m having fun. Even if things are terrible, there is a way out or a way to work with it,” said Gillon.
Gillon’s story is constantly evolving but with a key driving force. While growing up, Gillon describes the idea that the only notion of hearing aids he had as a kid was that they were for old people. There weren’t any deaf athletes for him to look up to or figures that he saw as showing the way of persevering past their disability. This experience drives him to advocate for deaf people and shows kids that although times might be difficult not being able to hear, you can break through whatever wall people put in front of you.
Even with supportive parents, Gillon faced discrimination from teachers, bosses, and others that thought his disability precluded him from having a normal life. However, a message of determination is one that he is passionate about giving back to the world. In his mind, being deaf and wearing hearing aids is no different from someone needing glasses and should be treated as such.
“As a kid, not having someone to look up to who was deaf was really uninspiring. It wasn’t easy to imagine myself as an adult. People said, you won’t be able to study because your ears don’t function properly. You won’t be able to speak multiple languages; you won’t be able to do a sport. It was easy for me to believe them because there was no example of a deaf or hard-of-hearing person that were a professional athlete or a president or astronaut,” Gillon said.
“I like my life now. It’s a lot of fun, but it definitely, took a while for me to get to that point of accepting it as okay and fully embracing it. Still, today, it’s a little difficult at times. Sometimes people think I’m stupid, or they think I’m not capable. I just gotta do what I do best and prove them wrong. Hopefully, through my actions and talking about my challenges, I can inspire a kid to do what they want to do, despite whatever issue they’re going through.”
Gillon realizes that he has had many advantages in life, such as his parent’s support and access to medical resources growing up in Switzerland. Unfortunately, this is not something that everyone has in their life, sparking the push for him to find ways of giving back to kids by fundraising to help provide hearing aids.
At the premier, a raffle was held featuring items from his new clothing brand called Deaf Jam. A portion of the profits goes to the Hear the World Foundation. For Gillon, if he can help educate and remove the stigma around being deaf or hard of hearing, then he will be successful.
“Kids having the support to gain an understanding of inclusion and exclusion is extremely important. That’s where I hope to teach and give back, hopefully making tomorrow a little bit better. I would not be able to hear properly or able to speak in English without my hearing aids. I can’t stress this enough. There are many resources out there to help kids acquire hearing aids, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s our job to communicate and productively help bring understanding,” said Gillon.