Boston-based docu filmmaker David Sutherland has spent the past decade trying to redefine the stylistic limits of the documentary. With “Out of Sight” he goes further, creating what one interview subject suggests is closer to soap opera than the traditional talking-head documentary. After a test run at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, pic heads to the Berlin Film Festival, which should be the first of many stops on the fest and arthouse circuit.
Film’s subject is Diane Starin, a 34-year-old blind woman living on a ranch in Northern California. While part of the story is her blindness — she is seen doing everything from cleaning her artificial eyes to serving as a role model for others — it’s not really the main point.
As she notes, “I think people are ready for a story about a blind woman who’s raising a family, having a career, or both. What I wonder is if they’re ready for a blind woman who’s in her 30s living with a man who’s in his 60s, in a relationship that deals with alcohol and infidelity.”
The people in her life are gradually introduced in both interviews and real-life situations. In a somewhat unusual technique for docus, Sutherland shows re-enactments of incidents from Starin’s past using the actual people playing themselves, including a scene where her boyfriend nearly burns them both alive inside their camper.
Sutherland doesn’t try to force sympathy for Starin. She comes across as someone all too human, with much to admire but also much to criticize.
After she breaks up with her older b.f., he is diagnosed with cancer. She comes back to live with him in a new house they will share. When he does better than his doctors anticipated, Starin calculates whether she can afford to wait for him to die so she will inherit his share of the house.
Sutherland’s cast of real-life characters aren’t freaks but simply folks trying to make the best of the hand that life has dealt them. In the end, the complex relationships carry the film, not any maudlin and easy concern for a “handicapped” person.
Sutherland’s gritty cinema verite style is aided by the understated stylization of the flashbacks, which use a washed-out, nearly black-and-white look to convey the sense of recollection. Western-style music is provided by Reeves Gabrels, a guitarist/songwriter with David Bowie’s band Tin Machine.