Blind Cinema: Reframing Visual Impairment in Shadow Girl (Chile 2016)




Blind filmmaker, visual impairment, blind gaze, haptic visuality, Shadow Girl, Chile


From an ableist perspective, few things may seem more unlikely than a blind filmmaker. Vision (a physical state) and the "gaze" (a theoretical construct) are central to and constitutive of film, so how could it be possible for a blind person to make a film? Yet, blind and visually impaired filmmakers such as Chilean director María Teresa Larraín, by virtue of their unique perspective, capture images in new ways, reframing blindness and altering society's expectations about the central role of the image and of how visuality operates in film. Recent films by visually impaired directors, as well as collaborations between blind and sighted filmmakers, show how the aesthetics and content of these works represent the experience of blindness. For example, Larraín's autobiographical documentary "Shadow Girl" (2016) mimics the filmmaker-protagonist's gradual vision loss by progressively darkening the screen, placing the spectator at the center of her traumatic experience. This self-reflexive documentary narrates the filmmakers' journey into blindness and, concurrently, her return to Chile after a lengthy exile. The loss of her vision is intricately linked to the loss of the Chile she recalls, binding the personal to the political. By asserting a new visual style that evokes vision loss even as she advocates for her rights as a blind artist, Larraín will reconstruct her status as a filmmaker and locate a renewed hope for Chile. Moreover, Shadow Girl disrupts our mistaken belief that vision is the primary way of processing the cinematic experience and the world at-large, making it a truly transgressive film in form and content alike.