“In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m just looking for guidance in how to be a blind artist,” filmmaker Rodney Evans says in Vision Portraits, his remarkable new documentary playing October 18-20 at BAM. Evans follows three artists as they deal with severe visual impairment but refuse to give up on their dreams as he seeks experimental treatment for his retinitis pigmentosa. Manhattan photographer John Dugdale lost most of his eyesight from CMV retinitis when he was thirty-two but is using his supposed disability to his advantage, taking stunning photos bathed in blue, inspired by the aurora borealis he sees when he closes his eyes. “Proving to myself that I could still function in a way that was not expected of a blind person was really gonna be the thing,” he says. “It’s fun to live in this bliss.” Bronx dancer Kayla Hamilton was born with no vision in one eye and developed iritis and glaucoma in the other, but she is shown working on a new piece called Nearly Sighted that incorporates the audience into her story. “How can I use my art form as a way of sharing what it is that I’m experiencing?” she asks.
Canadian writer Ryan Knighton lost his eyesight on his eighteenth birthday due to retinitis pigmentosa, but he teaches at a college and presents short stories about his condition at literary gatherings. “I had that moment where I had a point of view now, like, I realized blindness is a point of view on the world; it’s not something I should avoid, it’s something I should look from, and I should make it my writerly point of view,” Knighton explains. Meanwhile, Evans heads to the Restore Vision Clinic in Berlin to see if Dr. Anton Fedorov can stop or reverse his visual impairment, which is getting worse.
Vision Portraits is an intimate, honest look at eyesight and art and how people adapt to what could have been devastating situations. Evans, who wrote and directed the narrative features Brother to Brother and The Happy Sad, also includes animated segments that attempt to replicate what the subjects see, from slivers of light to star-laden alternate universes. BAM is hosting several postscreening Q&As, with Evans, moderated by Kirsten Johnson, Friday at 7:30; with Evans, moderated by Imani Barbarin, Saturday at 5:00; with Evans, moderated by Jourdain Searles, Saturday at 8:30; and with Kjerstin Rossi, Mark Tumas, Hannah Buck, and Hamilton, moderated by Charmaine Warren, Sunday at 4:30.