2016 Sundance Docs in Focus: NOTES ON BLINDNESS

notes on blindnessMy New Frontier roundup ends with the third of three nonfiction/hybrid titles: Peter Middleton and James Spinney’s NOTES ON BLINDNESS, which re-embodies a man’s experiences of losing his sight.

Festival Section:
New Frontier

Sundance Program Description:

Filmmakers James Spinney and Peter Middleton set out to accomplish a seemingly impossible task – visually capturing the internal essence of blindness. Their entry point is writer and theologian, John Hull, who, between 1983 and 1986, kept a series of audio diaries that documented his experience after losing his eyesight. Oliver Sacks described the work as “the most extraordinary, precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read. It is to my mind a masterpiece.” Using Hull’s remarkable insights and unsentimental articulations about going blind, Spinney and Middleton craft a film of breathtaking vision and innovation.

Painstakingly recreating Hull’s life during the early 1980s, NOTES ON BLINDNESS re-imagines both the realities of his deteriorating condition as well as his more ephemeral and abstract feelings about his life, as it slipped into a new, altered state of being. The result is a powerful ode to the beauty of words and the imagination, where surreal landscapes and elegantly detailed reenactments blend into a visceral, surreal, one-of-a-kind viewing experience.

Some Background:
Directors/Producers: Peter Middleton and James Spinney
Middleton and Spinney have previously worked with Hull’s diaristic materials to create films, including a short film of the same name that appeared at the 2014 festival and went on to win an Emmy Award. They also bring to this year’s event a VR experience based on the same project, NOTES ON BLINDNESS – INTO DARKNESS.

Producers: Mike Brett, Steve Jamison, Jo-Jo Ellison, and Alex Usborne; Co-Producers: David Coujard and Arnaud Colinart
Archer’s Mark producers Brett and Jamison previously executive produced the short version of NOTES ON BLINDNESS. Their previous work has screened at Tribeca and the BFI London Film Festival. Their colleague Ellison produced the short, and has a background in producing documentary content for Channel 4 and the BBC. Usborne, also an executive producer of the short, runs disability-focused 104 Films, whose previous projects have appeared at Berlin, Toronto, IDFA, Hot Docs, and Edinburgh, among other notable events.

Agat Films’ Coujard’s background is in French television productions, including newsmagazines, documentary, and fiction. He has frequently collaborated with colleague Colinart, who serves as a director with Middleton and Spinny on the VR project at this year’s festival.

Executive Producers: Lizzie Francke, Richard Holmes, Martine Saada, Mark Edwards, Nick Fraser, Kate Townsend, Dan Cogan, Jason Spingarn-Koff, and Philippa Kowarsky; Co-Executive Producer: Jenny Raskin
BFI Film Fund’s Francke is a Sundance alum, having executive produced last year’s docs HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD and DARK HORSE.

Creative England’s Holmes counts among his previous projects 45 YEARS, EDEN LAKE, and WAKING NED DEVINE.

Saada, soon to depart from ARTE France, previously executive produced Sundance alum HAPPINESS (2014), and co-produced the Oscar-nominated and Cannes award-winning THE MISSING PICTURE. Her colleague Edwards, a commissioning editor for ARTE, has had past work screen at Cannes, IDFA, and Turin.

The BBC’s inimitable Fraser has executive produced several Sundance aliumni titles, most recently (T)ERROR (2015), CENSORED VOICES (2015), THE NOTORIOUS MR BOUT (2014), HAPPINESS, PUSSY RIOT – A PUNK PRAYER (2013), and GOOGLE AND THE WORLD BRAIN (2013). His colleague Townsend shares credits on (T)ERROR, HAPPINESS, and PUSSY RIOT, among other Sundance alumni.

Impact Partners’ Cogan is also represented at the festival as executive producer of NUTS! and THE EAGLE HUNTRESS. His most recent alumni projects include last year’s CENSORED VOICES, THE HUNTING GROUND, SEMBENE!, DREAMCATCHER, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, and CHUCK NORRIS VS COMMUNISM. Serving as co-executive producer is his colleague Raskin, who counts among her alumni credits CENSORED VOICES, CHUCK NORRIS, and WEB JUNKIE (2014).

Spingarn-Koff is a Sundance alum as the director of LIFE 2.0 (2010). Formerly of The New York Times, he commissioned the short version of NOTES ON BLINDNESS for the paper’s Op-Docs section.

Cinephil’s Philippa Kowarsky has executive produced several projects at Sundance before, including THE GATEKEEPERS (2013), SWEET MUD (2007), and TREMBLING BEFORE G-D (2001).

Editor: Julian Quantrill
This is Quantrill’s first Sundance project. He previously cut Archer’s Mark’s feature debut.

Why You Should Watch:
Spinney and Middleton effortlessly combine Hull’s audio documentary recordings with an artful recreation following the family man as he reckons with his darkening perceptions. The resulting hybrid is reminiscent of past projects like THE ARBOR, prompting viewers to be hyper-aware of Hull’s changing perception and its impact on his life as they themselves experience a simulation of it in parallel.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the link in the first paragraph.

To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2016 Twitter list.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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