The Making Of

Producer/director/editor Keith Maitland talks about the first blind person he ever met, how he chose the students he profiled in the film, and the contact sport designed specifically for visually impaired athletes.

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope this film will have?

Keith Maitland: I hope that viewers take a moment to challenge their preconceived notions about blindness, about perception, and about themselves. If the conversation that begins in this film is continued in households and classrooms around the nation, then that’s a great impact.

IL: What led you to make THE EYES OF ME?

KM: I’ve always been intrigued by questions of perception and identity building, specifically how teens and young adults define themselves within their communities. After a chance meeting with a staff member from the Texas School for the Blind, I realized that I could explore these questions of perception and identity through the experiences of the students at the school. And then I met Chas, the first blind person I’d ever known, and within two minutes I knew that I had to make a film about him.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

KM: Perhaps the biggest challenge was choosing which students to feature. We started with Chas and then Denise, and Isaac and Meagan filled out the cast, but the fact is that all of the 150 or so students at the school have their own unique stories, direction, and perspective. I could’ve aimed the camera at any of them.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in THE EYES OF ME?

KM: In general, I just try to make the people that I’m shooting feel like they are in good hands. I’m open-minded and I invite them to be open-minded to the process. I’m direct and curious.

IL: What would you have liked to include in the film that didn’t make the cut?

KM: We shot a lot of footage about the school’s Goalball team. Goalball is an exciting game, a contact sport designed specifically for the blind. We traveled to Goalball tournaments in Colorado and Florida. We interviewed Goalball experts, coaches, and players. Unfortunately, those experiences fell outside of the stories that really resonated with us while editing and it just didn’t work for what the film was becoming.

IL: Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

KM: Denise’s birthday was the kind of moment that makes this job so exciting. It was only a couple of weeks into the school year and we still hadn’t settled on many characters. We were at the school to interview a staff member but we had to wait until after a small birthday party in the dorm. OK, no problem, we’ll shoot it. In the course of that birthday party, Denise opened up about her past and exalted in the pleasure that she felt at that moment. That’s what I had been trying to capture, that kind of moment. Instantly Denise went from the shy girl in the back of the dorm to a main character in our story. She was so in the moment that months later — years later — when we watch that scene, we are still right there in that moment with her.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

KM: All four of the main subjects have seen the film and have given their thumbs-up. We’ve had a chance to screen at several festivals with the kids in attendance, and the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive.

IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

KM: Outreach, engagement, audience building — PBS is really the only place for this film.

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