“The prospect of going blind terrifies me,” announces seasoned news producer Joseph Lovett toward the beginning of this information-packed report, which weds elements of the diary film with newsmagazine-style profiles of people coping with different categories of sight loss. Like a detective, Lovett uses his own glaucoma symptoms as clues to help determine who to track down next, immersing himself in the struggles of his various interviewees. An unlikely candidate for extended theatrical play, “Going Blind” could proudly be added to the lineups of numerous educational networks. Eye-opening docu bowed Oct. 8 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema.
In between consultations with his ophthalmologist over a roughly three-year span, Lovett visits subjects such as 11-year-old Emmet Teran, afflicted with inherited strabismus; legally blind Veterans Administration worker Patricia Williams; and sightless Iraq War veteran Steve Baskis, the victim of shrapnel from a roadside bomb. All crave self-sufficiency (Teran complains of his overprotective baseball teammates), and some admit to having lived in denial about their infirmities; Williams’ own tipping point arrived when she garnished a chicken with cinnamon rather than paprika.
Lovett’s TV know-how and fluency with handheld camerawork are evident throughout, his casual conversations conducted on sidewalks and street corners, in subways, parking lots, apartments, homes, medical facilities and treatment centers. But given his personal circumstances, it’s unsurprising that Lovett should also concentrate on the problems of artists specializing in visual mediums, such as 70-year-old New Jersey architect Peter D’Elia, diagnosed with macular degeneration. Innovative art teacher Jessica Jones, who wound up with retinas permanently detached after an eight-month bout with diabetes, provides the film’s biggest source of inspiration; her unsentimental manner and talent for self-reinvention resonate strongly.
Invasive surgical procedures are examined closely only when applied to Lovett’s own condition, and the footage of his third eye operation (involving a simple cataract removal) is wince-inducingly graphic. Mostly, though, shocks are mitigated with computer-rendered anatomical cutaway representations, and with the insistent casualness of Lovett’s voiceover narration. Indeed, the low-tech off-handedness with which Lovett depicts impaired eyesight — dividing the frame up into panels with some open and some shut, simulating blind spots by selectively fogging parts of the lens — effectively demystifies the process of going blind.