As a legally blind person, I wished I had had a documentary like this to watch while growing up, as I didn't have much confidence in my abilities or a model for what was possible for blind people. I saw this first with audio description at the National Federation for the Blind annual convention in July 2017, and instantly loved it. I watched it again on Amazon Prime without audio description this time, though it is available on Prime. If you are visually impaired, I suggest audio description, since there are times when text appears on screen without narration, a common practice for documentaries nowadays that frustrates me to no end. Luckily I had my girlfriend there to read the text to me. I found that I still enjoy it immensely. It's one of the best documentaries about blindness or disability out there in my opinion.
The film follows four blind high schoolers and their various struggles and triumphs. It avoids the dual stereotypes of blindness as tragedy and inspiration, which portray blind people as either pitiable wretches or heroic saints. Here, they are simply humans, teenagers, who happen to be blind. They're definitely smart and motivated, and have support from parents, siblings, and friends. Yet, each of them have various levels of success and struggle, largely related to their schools being lax in providing appropriate accommodations. The film does a great job of highlighting the fact that it is not blindness itself, but systemic prejudice against blindness (ableism) and inaccessible environments/situations that make living with blindness difficult. This is a perspective that my teenage self could have greatly benefited from.
I also like the fact that each kid comes from different racial backgrounds and economic statuses, and have varying interests: Connor, who is all about skateboarding--not just as a hobby, but as something that seems like both a sport and an art; Sarah, who studies Spanish and wants to study abroad in Portugal, where her mother's ancestry is from; Nick, who loves music, especially drumming, and wants to play in a metal band; and Carina, who struggles to keep on top of her school work because of a lack of accessible materials.
Each of them is charismatic in their own way, and we come to really feel for them as we hear them and those close to them talk about the difficulties they've faced, from bullying to adult biases. And we root for each of them as they strive to achieve their goals--getting a skating sponsorship, visiting Portugal, playing a show, and graduating high school. There are emotional moments, but it never feels sentimentalized like so often happens with depictions of disability. There isn't sugary-syrupy melodramatic music that plays up intimate or painful scenes, and the story is mostly told by the people themselves, rather than through the camera or the filmmakers trying to make us "feel" a certain way. We hear people responding to questions, but much of the narrative comes from just following people around and letting their stories play out.
It's not a film that really tries to "explain" blindness or the details of how to manage it-- -we get some of that, but mostly it's just about living. I believe this film does the important work of showing blind people (and by extension, disabled people generally) as ordinary people who want to live the lives they want (the slogan of the National Federation of the Blind), while not shying away from the fact that there are still barriers in place to be overcome (and it's not blindness itself that needs to be overcome).
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