Kyle Cloete is a young man who knows what he wants – and he knows how to get it.
The 15-year-old is profoundly deaf in one ear and has a moderate-severe loss in the other. He relies on a cochlear implant and a hearing aid to hear.
Kyle is making the most of being able to listen and speak and spends his spare time making movies – he dreams of becoming a screenwriter and Hollywood director.
“Film making is my hobby and passion. I absolutely love it.”
But if it weren’t for his ability to hear, Kyle believes he wouldn’t be able to make movies and study drama at Rosehill College.
“[Drama] requires a lot of listening. There are times I miss a few lines, but it’s like improv. I can be myself and make people laugh.”
Kyle grew up watching a lot of 80s tv shows, including The A-Team and MacGyver. He also loved The Muppet Show and was fascinated by animation.
“I remember asking myself ‘how did they do that?’.”
When he was 11-years-old he grabbed his parent’s old camcorder and some toy cars “but I didn’t know how to turn it on, so I just ended up looking through the camera, pushing the cars along and making the brmmm brmmm noises”.
He later started watching documentaries and decided to make his own about the family’s project to restore a Mini car.
Kyle has since gone on to make a number of his own short films and documentaries, has started vlogging (a video blog), has his own YouTube channel – KFilms Productions – and is entering competitions and festivals.
In his latest project, Kyle is making a comedy about the struggles of hearing loss. It will be screened in Wellington as part of the New Zealand Deaf Short Film Festival which is on from September 8 to 10.
Over the years Kyle has made his own equipment, props and puppets – including The Muppet Show characters Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear, which he still owns and used when he made his movie Kermit The Frogfather in 2016.
“When I was little I was very much into prop making. I saw something on tv and I would want to replicate it. I was always DIYing in the garage.”
Mum Natasha says Kyle’s ingenuity is “amazing”. “He makes everything at home. He makes things out of anything.”
When it comes to film making and editing, Kyle’s talents are mostly self-taught. But he also says he owes a lot to the support and input he’s received from his family, his Resource Teacher of the Deaf Paul Taylor and his neighbour Terri De’Ath who used to work in the film industry.
Kyle was born hearing but Natasha and dad Wayne, who are both profoundly deaf, became suspicious that something wasn’t right when he was around 2 weeks old.
The family were living in South Africa at the time and Natasha and Wayne took Kyle to the doctor. Despite being told that his hearing was fine, the couple were still worried.
“Mum had those mother’s feelings,” says Kyle, who has a 13-year-old sister Sheila with full hearing.
When the family moved to New Zealand in 2005 they took Kyle to a doctor who sent the four-year-old to an audiologist.
Their persistence paid off – Kyle was diagnosed with a mild-moderate hearing loss in his right ear and normal hearing in the other.
He was fitted with two hearing aids and later that year a CT scan revealed cholesteatoma disease in his right ear, a noncancerous skin growth that can develop in the middle section of the ear.
The growth was cut out, but it had damaged three bones in his ear, and one of them had to be removed. He was now profoundly deaf in his right ear, meaning a hearing aid was no use to him, and had a moderate-severe hearing loss in the other.
Kyle, who also uses sign language, wanted a cochlear implant after Wayne received one in 2007. Kyle saw the difference it made and wanted to “hear like dad”.
He was assessed by staff from The Hearing House and underwent cochlear implant surgery on his right ear in 2009 when he was seven years old.
“They explained the operation to me and I was quite nervous. It was slow getting used to [the CI] and then it started sounding normal. It’s hard to describe what it sounds like. It did sound very different but as you get used to it you can teach the brain.”
Kyle, who also enjoys playing the guitar, the pan flute, reading and drawing, says once things settled down he “really started to pick up oral language”.
“The CI helped a lot in school. If I didn’t have the CI I wouldn’t have access to both languages.”
Kyle had been quite shy, but “always wanted to fit in”, and soon learnt to use his CI to have a bit of fun.
“People would ask what it was. I’d joke about it and tell them I’m a CIA agent and that they were my prime suspect.”
Later on he would tell people what it was and say “it helps me hear, just like wearing glasses helps people see”.
Kyle wants to see other teens with cochlear implants succeed and follow their dreams.
“Make the best of your failures – they often teach you something. Embrace your weaknesses and find a way to make it better.
“Do your own thing,” he says.
Kyle’s proud parents say sound is a very important part of his films.
“He’s quite critical about his film making,” Natasha says.
“He’s really motivated. He’s got the drive, and when he’s got that drive he gets really focussed. He never gives up. If there’s something he wants he just goes for it.
“He has a cochlear implant and a hearing aid and he does so well. He enjoys sound,” she says.