Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Eyes of Me" documentary focuses on experiences of blind teenagers in Texas

From Philadelphia Daily News. You can see the trailer for the film here.

The Overbrook School for the Blind seems an unlikely venue for a movie premiere, but on Feb. 17 a feature documentary called "The Eyes of Me" gets its first Philadelphia screening at the West Philadelphia campus.

The documentary follows four blind Texas high school students through a year at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin.

Keith Maitland, who produced and directed "The Eyes of Me," said he didn't set out to make a film for blind people. Rather, he said, he made it "for the sighted person who has never had the chance or taken the opportunity to meet a blind person."

And the film's theme transcends the focus on disability. It poses the broader question of identity: How do you see yourself, when you can't see at all?

This is Maitland's first feature-length film, although he's worked with celebrated directors like Woody Allen, Janusz Kaminski and Joe Schumacher, and he became one of the Director's Guild of America's youngest members, just two years out of school.

To make "The Eyes of Me," Maitland spent four years gathering more than 250 hours of film to produce the 72-minute documentary.

Wednesday's screening is the result of a collaboration between several local organizations and Community Cinema, which previews and arranges public screenings of films that are produced by Independent Television Service (ITVS) and PBS for the Independent Lens public-TV series.

Cindy Burstein, Community Cinema's Philadelphia outreach coordinator, said her organization tries to make the public award of local resources pertaining to the issues addressed in the documentaries.

In Philadelphia, Overbrook School for the Blind, Liberty Resources, an advocacy group for persons with disabilities, Amaryllis Theatre Company and the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre are making this screening possible.

"It's really about using film to inspire community engagement," said Burstein, who calls the screenings a "catalyst for action."

A major goal for the screening of "The Eyes of Me" is to connect people with disabilities, who are sometimes isolated and segregated, to the rest of the community. A combination of closed captioning and audio description will ensure that audiences of all abilities will be able to appreciate Wednesday's screening.

When ITVS approached Overbrook School for the Blind proposing the partnership, the school realized it would be an opportunity to get information to the public.

"If we tried to do it solo, I don't think it would have the impact," said Gerald Kitzhoffer, the school's director.

"We want to heighten and raise [the public's] attention to issues that students and young adults have to face," Kitzhoffer said, adding that his students and teachers are seeking empathy not sympathy.