Peter Middleton and James Spinney began with a relatively modest, if challenging, objective: to render cinematic the blind experience of snowfall. Years later, the result is their remarkable film Notes on Blindness, which premiered at Sundance and screened at festivals across the country (including SFIFF, where I was fortunate enough to catch it), picking up awards and accolades along the way.
Watching She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, director Mary Dore’s perfectly agreeable and accomplished 2014 documentary about the birth of the modern women’s movement in the U.S., it’s hard not to feel there’s something staid about the proceedings.
In 1980, the British theologian John Hull began to lose his eyesight permanently. Having struggled with vision problems his whole life, the process had irrevocably started toward total blindness. As he grappled with all that this would entail, he began keeping an audio diary, titled Notes On Blindness and eventually encompassing hundreds of hours of material – thoughts, reflections, anxieties, loneliness and isolation creeping in, but also a stubborn insistence: “If I was going to be blind,” he says, “then blindness must be understood.”
From the raw audio material – Hull’s soft, intelligent voice and clearly articulated ideas, the occasional commentary from and conversation with his wife, the heartrending and ghostly appearances of his children on tape – directors Peter Middleton and James Spinney craft in Notes On Blindness a deeply moving portrait of a man grappling with an entirely new way of engaging the world.