POV: How did you find the subject of your film?
Team 20Coop: We knew that we wanted to find a blind guide to New York City — Dongnan Chen had wanted to explore a project about blindness for some time and the rest of the team fell in love with the idea. We pursued various dead-ends (even camping outside of a Braille library!) and ultimately found Frank by word of mouth: we heard of Dialogue in the Dark, an exhibit space where blind New Yorkers take sighted New Yorkers through simulated, local scenes in total darkness. Frank is a guide at Dialogue in the Dark and we connected with him via their website.
POV: What challenges did you face in making this documentary under such time constraints?
Team 20Coop: To (diplomatically) converge five points of view into one short doc — under such tight time constraints — was a huge challenge! Particularly, since we each have a distinct creative vision. We all wear director/producer/editor hats on a daily basis, so it was a lesson in learning how to cede control.
POV: Did you have a vision for the film going into the doc challenge or was it something that really developed during the shooting and editing?
Team 20Coop: Going into the doc challenge we hoped that the topic and genre given would work for a short doc based on the premise of a blind, guided city-tour, but the project certainly evolved. Receiving the “Experimental” genre category spurred us to be a little imaginative. The film noir elements and the juxtaposition of light and dark grew organically as we began to play with the idea of sight. Frank was such a wonderful interviewee that his conversations with us were ample creative fodder.
POV: What was it like to make a visual film that was about a lack of vision?
Team 20Coop: The biggest challenge was, of course, how do we create a visual experience…to represent something that is not at all visual, particularly since Frank was born blind and has no concept of light and dark. But the more we spoke with him, the more we were inspired. We played with the idea of darkness versus light, and felt we could be liberal and experiment with our visuals. One thing that became a focal point in the video was the image of hands moving across surfaces and that grew out of a particularly poignant comparison Frank made about blindness forcing you to experience your surroundings on an intimate, micro level (you can’t see a mountain, you can only touch the rock.) Following Frank, we learned how his sense of hearing and touch are so heightened, and we hoped to convey this as best we could.
POV: What are the biggest challenges facing a blind person in a city?
Team 20Coop: One of the biggest daily challenges for blind people in the city is overcoming environmental, physical, obstacles. The city can be a difficult place to navigate; unexpected construction or busy traffic can make a daily route dangerous.
On a larger scale, employment is an important issue for blind people in the city. Blind people are the most underemployed among Americans with a disability. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 75% of working-age, blind adults are unable to maintain gainful employment.
POV: What are you working on next?
Team 20Coop: The group 20Coop has scattered, but everyone has been busy….
Loretta is based in Peru, where she is working on a series of documentaries for Discovery Channel in Mexico and reports throughout the continent for Al Jazeera, Channel 4 as well as broadcasters in her native Holland. Common topics are: immigration, the drug war and human trafficking. Follow her @lorvanderhorst.
Konstantin has recently returned to Russia where, as a digital journalist, he is now working on a new documentary about the global economic crisis and how it impacts ordinary people from Argentina to China.
Dongnan Chen is wrapping up her documentary short “The Trail from Xinjiaing.”
And Joe and Julia are still in New York, developing several ideas for feature-length documentaries — so stay tuned!