On The Big Screen Reviews

Open City Documentary Film Festival: Notes on Blindness – Review

Cinema is a hugely visual experience. Looking up at the big screen, the director has painstakingly studied every shot, every angle to ensure their vision is portrayed with due justice. Films are applauded for their stills and special effects, admired for the way the colours and landscape stir different emotions in the audience. So a film based on loss of sight, from the point of view of a blind man, seems fairly out there as concepts go.

Originally conceived as a short film (love your shorts people!) Notes on Blindness takes us on a surprisingly poignant and beautiful journey through the eyes of a man who tragically lost his sight just days before the birth of his son. John Hull had suffered from deteriorating vision since he was a boy, but even years of forethought cannot prepare you for the complete loss of such an integral sense. In an effort to come to terms with it, Hull started to keep an audio diary. Over the course of three years he recorded over sixteen hours of heartfelt and deeply personal thoughts that explored his changed relationships, having to adapt to an alien world and the process of mourning for ones self, ultimately resulting in self discovery and rebirth. At times you will find yourself in the pit of depression with John, with no way out of darkness. Then we crescendo into, not just acceptance, but also an appreciation for ‘a gift [he does] not want’, and that is more powerful than any cinematic special effect.

This feature documentary is based on these recordings and subsequent interviews with Hull and his wife. Rather than having actors perform from a written script, these recordings are used as a voiceover and actors lip synch along. If you have ever tried to mime power ballads into a hairbrush convincingly, you will appreciate that this is no mean feat. Dan Skinner and Simone Kirby’s portrayals of John and Marilyn Hull respectively are, therefore, complex and masterfully orchestrated.

By using voiceovers the film highlights how integral the remaining senses are – by producing the same sounds he hears, we get a real glimpse into John’s world. This technique is used throughout the film as the carefully constructed audio creates a complete canvas. Saying this, the visuals are just as stunning. Surreal and poetic at times, the evocative imagery makes us appreciate the wonders that can only exist through sight. Notes on Blindness is a powerful sensory experience that will inevitably leave you looking at the world a little bit differently.

Alongside the release in July, from the 24th June a virtual reality experience of the film will be touring across the UK and Ireland. Considering how fully immersive the film is alone, we expect big things from this special VR tour. This really emphasises the ground breaking and innovative ideas behind this documentary.  Massive respect to Peter Middleton and James Spinney, the men behind this particular curtain, for their new directional skills and clever use of production. This is their first feature film and I sincerely hope the start of a successful and longstanding career for both.

The short won an Emmy. The feature film has already won ‘Best Documentary’ at international festivals. I urge you to see it in cinemas while you can and follow in the footsteps of John Hull as we discover ‘a world beyond sight’. This is unlike any documentary you will have seen before and belongs in the cinema on the big screen. It deserves to be seen and appreciated in its fullness.



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