As part of the One Man’s Vision exhibition we are screening a short film by Felix Nelson Elsen. I Dream In Colour is a film about visual impairment and how it effects people in different ways. I reviewed the film as part of Cornerhouse’s Exposures Festival and was amazed at how well it handled the subject matter and the insight it gave me into the lives of visually impaired people.
I caught up with Felix this week for a Q&A about the film.
What is your background as a film maker?
I studied film, video and interactive arts at Middlesex University in London and have been interested in documentary film for many years. I was drawn to documentary film first of all as a viewer, watching TV documentaries about all kinds of stuff that I found interesting. I later discovered filmmaking and got interested in working behind the camera, that’s when I started discovering the possibilities in making documentary and experimental films. I am also discovering sound as a medium and have recently started to create soundscapes and soundtracks for my films. I am currently working in a non-film related environment but hope to be able to focus entirely on filmmaking one day. Before making I Dream In Colour, had you any experience of visual impairment?
I had no experience of visual impairment whatsoever before making the film and I tried to research the subject during pre-production as much as I could. I got in touch with RNIB and a large number of other charities in and around London. I received great support from the Essex Blind Charity and their Clacton Visually Impaired Art group as well as Kent Association for the Blind.
Besides reading books, watching films and visiting exhibitions to do with visual impairment, I also tried to speak to as many visually impaired people as I could to get a better understanding for what it means to live with limited or no sight. The people I met were by far the greatest source of information and it allowed me to get first-hand insights into a visually impaired person‟s point of view.
I am extremely grateful for having had the chance to meet all those inspiring people who so openly allowed me to ask all the questions I had. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about this subject and also realized how little sighted people really know about visual impairment and how it completely changes daily life.
Why was this subject matter something you were drawn to?
I Dream In Colour was my graduate project for my final year at university and the idea for the film came up when I was thinking about ways to combine experimental visuals and sound design in a documentary film. I brainstormed ideas with my girlfriend and it was her who suggested a documentary about visual impairment. I realized that this might be a chance to explore different ways of perception, focussing mainly on our sense of hearing and vision. I thought it could be an eye opening experience to make a film about the different ways in which people perceive their surroundings. Most people seem to think they know what it would be like to be blind or partially sighted, but to get the chance to listen to those who live with visual impairment every day is a rare opportunity.
How did you approach the people in the film and were they enthusiastic to be involved?
The visuals for the film were created after I had gathered all the interviews and background information I needed. The images were all shot and edited by myself and are based on what I was told by the people I interviewed. The film is a personal interpretation of people‟s descriptions and I am aware that it is not a representation of what it means to be visually impaired. It was never my aim to create a realistic representation of a visually impaired person‟s point of view but more an attempt to get the viewer thinking about these things. I have always found that abstract visuals, some of which I used in my film, seem to affect people on a completely different level in comparison to ordinary footage seen on mainstream TV. By using some quite unusual visual approaches I was trying to target the senses and the different ways in which things can be seen, heard and felt. For me a successful film affects the audience on a deeper, non-intellectual level. The images and the sound connect to the viewer in a more subtle way and the effect it has on the person can„t really be described in words.
So the overall approach of shooting the footage, recording the sounds and editing all of it based on the input I had from the people was a very free and creative process.
What has been the reaction to the film from visually impaired people?
The response has been very good and people really like it. I tried to add an additional layer to the film by creating surround sound field soundtracks for it. I thought that by focussing on the sound I might be able to make the film more accessible for a visually impaired audience. Since I finished the film I also planned to create an audio-only version by reconstructing it without using any visuals. So far I haven‟t had the chance to do this but I hope to work on this in the near future.
Do you think enough is done to make cinema accessible to visually impaired people?
I discussed audio description for films with some of the blind people and found that while some think it‟s good and makes films more accessible, others still think that losing out on the visual element of film actually means that they don‟t really enjoy watching them. I have wondered since a while now if films without narratives and stories, like the abstract hand-painted films of Len Lye, would be somehow more enjoyable and could be appreciated purely for their beauty in terms of flickering shapes, colours and lights by some visual impairment audiences with an interest in art films.
What are you up to right now? What is the next Felix Nelson Elsen project?
At the moment I am editing a documentary about urban exploring. Urban exploring, also known as “urbex” is an underground movement of people who share a fascination for abandoned and derelict buildings and places. A fellow filmmaker and myself have recently joined a group of British urbexers during a trip to Berlin. We followed them with cameras during their explores around old Soviet military barracks to the east of the city as well as some other long forgotten sites. This is going to be an extended and further developed version of an earlier documentary about the same subject. The earlier version was called Footprints and can be seen online on my vimeo page.
I have also got some other material I will soon start working on and if anyone is interested to see my films or just wants to get in touch, visit my online page vimeo.com/felixnelson or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.