stuttering is a martial art

Eloquence contests have been fashionable for several years now, but the one that takes place every year in Paris-Dauphine is certainly special: it is reserved for people who stutter! The documentary ‘Stuttering Melts in the Sun’ follows participants who struggle to turn the terrifying act of stuttering public speaking into a satisfying and liberating experience.

Who has never felt stage fright when speaking in public? Palpitations, sweaty palms, a lump in your stomach… Now imagine you are there, you have overcome your stress, you know exactly what you want to say, the audience is staring at you, and suddenly, while speaking, you open your mouth and the sound won’t come out. That is the daily life of more than 650,000 stutterers in France.

Knowing this handicap, the idea of ​​holding an eloquence contest reserved for those who suffer from it seems like a perverse idea, even torture. It’s clearly nothing. The two creators are Mounah Bizri and Juliette Blondeau, both members of the Parole Stuttering Association (APB) which aims to raise public awareness, support research and support people with stuttering. In 2019, Mounah and Juliette launched “The eloquence of stuttering” to prove that stuttering is not necessarily a limit, neither in the expression of ideas nor in self-affirmation.

Their contest follows the same principles as other classic eloquence contests: candidates must write and deliver a speech in public, in response to imposed problems, often formulated in the form of a question (“time, is it money?”, “Is the grass always greener elsewhere?”…), they are judged on the relevance of their arguments as well as on their oratorical qualities.

“A person who stutters can spend years or even a lifetime trying to hide their stuttering. Controlling speech and emotions is a destructive mechanism for self-confidence and socialization. says director Melissa Bronsart, herself a stutterer and very familiar with the torments of stuttering. “If you dare to assume in public that you stutter, it is as if an enormous built-up tension has disappeared. And it’s not just a metaphor, because the relief is indeed physical. The body relaxes, the face relaxes.

During the 7 weeks that the competition lasts, the candidates are transformed little by little. Masterclasses, training workshops, minor failures and great successes follow one another in front of a discreet camera that strives to witness the extraordinary emotional adventure that Samira, Dorian, Ibrahim or Sonia experienced. Women and men discovering that their speech, so painful in normal times, can become a source of pleasure.

video length: 01min 24

Dorian, participant in the 2021 “The Eloquence of Stuttering” competition

©France 3 PIDF


-How can stuttering be defined?

Stuttering is a communication disorder in which neurology and psychology are in constant interaction. There is no single cause for its occurrence, it is the result of a combination of factors. While there is no stuttering gene per se, research has shown that there is a favorable genetic basis for its development. It usually appears before the age of 6 years.

In rarer cases, it can occur later, in adolescence or adulthood after a violent trauma or serious health problem (stroke, etc.). It affects about three men for every woman with no research currently able to explain why. Contrary to some common ideas, stuttering is not related to possible mental retardation or delay. The person also does not find his words. It is simply a disturbance in the flow of speech, which prevents it from being expressed fluently, and can also cause involuntary movements of the face and body called synkinesis.

-Why this title “stuttering melts in the sun”?

One day I heard this phrase from my former speech-language pathologist when she was speaking to a patient who was apprehensive at the idea of ​​talking to her colleagues at work about her condition: “Stuttering, it melts in the sun.” Stuttering is shaped like an iceberg. This is a pattern that all stutterers who have been to a specialist speech therapist’s office have already seen. Above the surface of the water is what is visible: the stutter, the sounds that linger or the syllables that are repeated, the shifting gaze, the grimaces. The sunken part of the iceberg is hidden.

It is, however, much larger, although invisible: feeling of shame, anger, humiliation, loss of self-confidence, an incessant inner dialogue, fear of the other’s gaze, judgment, depreciation, withdrawal into oneself. This documentary will show that by voicing your speech (here, by daring to take it in public) and thus by exposing your stutter to the sun, the whole iceberg will melt. The stutters fade, or if they persist, they no longer take on as much importance. Most importantly, the negative feelings associated with stuttering also disappear. We sit up, we carry our voice, we gain confidence, we put fear and shame at the door to finally express what we have to say.

-Where did you get the idea for this documentary?

Stuttering has been a part of my life since childhood. Even before I was born, because my father is a stutterer. With me it appeared around the age of 3 or 4 years. He accompanied me constantly, through college, high school, university, job interviews, administrative procedures, new meetings, discussions with my friends, my family, and even disputes. About 10 years of speech therapy and dozens of discussion group sessions have allowed me to master it in a concrete way, but also to tame it to make it a companion rather than an enemy.

In 2018 I decided to contact my former speech therapist again, to tell her my news and to offer her my services as a director because documentary has become my profession. During a shoot at his office, I met Mounah Bizri, the co-creator of the contest, who introduced me to the concept of The eloquence of stuttering, the first edition of which was to take place a few weeks later…

“Stuttering melts in the sun”, Thursday 2 June after the film, then on