SCALING BABEL: Rise of the Translators

A feature documentary film in development, Scaling Babel  is the story of the long invisible world of literary translators at a turning point. As immigrants and people of color increasingly join their ranks, translators today are coming out of the shadows to assert themselves, bringing into English powerful, moving, and innovative literature from more languages and cultures than ever. Through the individual stories of a handful of United States-based translators as they interact with their authors, publishers, readers, and each other, the film shines a light on this culturally rich practice and reveals its subtle but profound impact on society. 

In 2019, Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk wrote an essay titled, “How Translators are Saving the World.”  With Scaling Babel, our goal is to examine that assertion and bring it to life.

Key personnel:

Veronica Selver (producer/director/editor) is a Bay Area filmmaker and editor who has specialized in social issue documentaries. Her own films include KPFA On The AirRaising the Roof, and Cape Song. Films she co-directed and co-edited include You Got to MoveFirst Look, and Columbia duPont Excellence in Broadcast Journalism winner Word is Out. She recently produced and co-directed IRMI, a film about her mother, whose memoir is voiced by Hanna Schygulla. Selected earlier editing credits include On Company Business, winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Berkeley in the Sixties, an Academy Award nominee and American Cinema Editors nominee for best edited documentary; Columbia DuPont winner Harry Bridges: A Man and His Union, IDA award winner Absolutely Positive, Peabody Award winner Coming Out Under Fire, and POV broadcast Blacks and Jews. Veronica was also an editor on Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard RustinA Fierce Green Fire, and creative consultant on Regarding Susan Sontag. She spent much of her youth in France and continues to return regularly. Her interest in translation is a natural outgrowth of her bi-lingual life. 

Sharon Wood (producer/director/writer) is a San Francisco based documentary filmmaker.  Her own films, Kheturni Bayo: North Indian Farm Women and Outside in Sight: The Music of United Front led to serving as writer on Oscar nominees Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press, and Super Chief: The Life and Legacy of Earl Warren, along with the Peabody and Columbia-duPont award winning The Celluloid Closet and Paragraph 175.

Sharon also served as treatment writer on the groundbreaking series, Race: The Power of an Illusion.  Between 2003-11, Wood was producer/director/writer for Lucasfilm’s documentary department, making 18 films on subjects from Leo Tolstoy to T. E. Lawrence to the Turkish feminist writer Halide Edip, as well as Manifest Destiny, a series on U.S. foreign policy.

In 2012, Praeger-ABC Clio published “The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making,” which Sharon co-authored with Oscar winners Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein. Recent producing and/or writing credits include Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly, And the Oscar Goes To… and the 2022 feature documentaries, Pleistocene Park and PASANG: In the Shadow of Everest. A 2016 Fulbright Fellowship in Turkey to research Ottoman travel writer Evliya Çelebi sparked her interest in translation.  


  • Aron Aji, University of Iowa
  • Esther Allen, Baruch College, CUNY
  • David Bellos, Princeton University
  • Susan Bernofsky, Columbia University
  • Madhu H. Kaza, independent scholar and artist
  • John Keene, Rutgers University-Newark