Notes on Blindness
NOTES ON BLINDNESS is a feature film and multi-platform interactive project based on the audio diaries of writer and academic John Hull, who – after decades of steady deterioration – became totally blind in 1983.
To help him make sense of the upheaval in his life, he began keeping a diary on audio-cassette. Over three years he recorded in excess of sixteen hours of material – a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, which excavates the interior world of blindness. Neurologist Oliver Sacks described John’s account as ‘the most extraordinary, precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read. It is to my mind a masterpiece.’
Based on the Emmy Award-winning short film of the same name, NOTES ON BLINDNESS is the debut feature from Writer-Directors Peter Middleton & James Spinney, whose work explores new approaches in the documentary form.
Embedding original documentary elements within cinematic interpretations and textured sound design (from acclaimed Supervising Sound Editor Joakim Sundström), the filmmakers take the viewer on an illuminating and deeply personal journey deep into what John calls 'a world beyond sight.'
See the Film
Peter Middleton & James Spinney Directors
From respective backgrounds studying Visual Art and English Literature, Peter and James have been working together for the past five years on a range of fiction, documentary and commercial projects. During this period they have adapted John’s diary material into a series of award winning short films. The first of these, RAINFALL, won the Best Short Documentary Award at Hot Docs 2013 and was nominated for the ICA Experimental Film Award. This was followed in 2014 by the Emmy Award-winning short, also entitled NOTES ON BLINDNESS, which screened at Sundance Film Festival and won Best Documentary at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival. NOTES ON BLINDNESS is their first feature.
Mike Brett & Steve Jamison Producers
Mike Brett & Steve Jamison are co-founders and managing directors of award-winning independent production company, Archer’s Mark. The pair’s debut feature NEXT GOAL WINS won the Moët British Independent Film Award for Best Documentary in 2014, earning them recognition as two of BAFTA’s 2014 Breakthrough Brits and as Screen International Future Leaders for 2015.
Jo-Jo Ellison Producer
Jo-Jo Ellison produced the Emmy Award-winning New York Times Op-Doc NOTES ON BLINDNESS, on which the feature film is based. She is also coordinating an ambitious outreach and engagement campaign, supported by the Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund, which aims to fulfill John Hull’s wish to ‘overcome the abyss which divides blind people from sighted people’.
Alex Usbourne Producer
Alex Usborne runs 104 Films – the world leaders in disability cinema. The company has produced six feature films (including SPECIAL PEOPLE, SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL and I AM BREATHING), over 60 short films and runs a raft of training and development programs for disabled film talent.
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Festivals & Awards
Sundance Film Festival
“Filmmakers James Spinney and Peter Middleton set out to accomplish a seemingly impossible task—visually capturing the internal essence of blindness. Their entry point is writer and theologian John Hull, who, between 1983 and 1986, kept a series of audio diaries that documented his experience after losing his eyesight. Oliver Sacks described the work as “the most extraordinary, precise, deep and beautiful account of blindness I have ever read. It is to my mind a masterpiece.” Using Hull’s remarkable insights and unsentimental articulations about going blind, Spinney and Middleton craft a film of breathtaking vision and innovation.
Painstakingly recreating Hull’s life during the early 1980s, Notes on Blindness re-imagines both the realities of his deteriorating condition as well as his more ephemeral and abstract feelings about his life, as it slipped into a new, altered state of being. The result is a powerful ode to the beauty of words and the imagination, where surreal landscapes and elegantly detailed reenactments blend into a visceral, surreal, one-of-a-kind viewing experience.”
San Francisco Film Festival
“A taped journal that theologian John Hull kept after the onset of blindness in 1980 forms the basis of this elegant and moving depiction of struggle and transcendence. Hull's own voice provides the audio, though an actor plays the deceased writer, as he learns to negotiate his condition and endures a crisis of faith. Sublime sound design further enhances this evocative documentary, making manifest Hull's discovery that the loss of one sense leads to the sharpening of others.”
Screening: Sunday, June 12th - 6pm
When John Hull’s sight finally vanished completely after decades of deterioration, the British academic decided to document his new world on audio cassettes. This innovative hybrid uses actors to lip sync the diaries, telling the story of Hull’s complex and articulate engagement with his condition. Doc/Fest is proud to be championing this project, which started its life at MeetMarket and was produced by Sheffield-based 104 Films.
The film will be accompanied by Notes on Blindness & Into Darkness: A Film and VR Autopsy, a panel discussion at ITV Town Hall chaired by Ingrid Kopp (Tribeca Film Institute), which will celebrate the first time a film and VR project are being exhibited together where both stand alone as works of art in their own right. The virtual reality project Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness will also be presented as part of the VR exhibition at Site Gallery as the European premiere of the complete six-chapter experience.
“Elegant, evocative and deeply affecting.”
“Extraordinary eloquence, precision and poetic sensitivity...“Notes on Blindness” subtly evokes sightlessness with its many scenes with shadowy palette, figures in silhouette and brief interludes in which the screen goes dark. The strategy brings out the dazzling beauty of moments shot in brilliant color.”
-Critics' Pick, The New York Times
“★★★★★ A visionary, lyrical film.”
-The Times of London