‘Vision Portraits’ Is A Fascinating Documentary About How Artists Persevere After Losing Their Sight [SXSW Review]

The Playlist | 3/13/2019 | Christian Gallichio
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Rodney Evans (“Brother to Brother,” which won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004) returns to the screen with his deeply personal documentary “Vision Portraits.” Tracking four visually impaired artists suffering from RP (retinitis pigmentosa), including the filmmaker himself, Evans questions how these artists go about creating in visual mediums when their own sight is rapidly deteriorating. Oscillating between traditional documentary and experimental, subjective attempts to capture what it’s like to be impaired, Evans creates a moderately successful portrait of, what the film references as, the space between seeing and not.

The most successful element of the doc are the more mundane talking head/day-in-the-life segments, in which Evans interviews a number of different artists working in various mediums. There is photographer John Dugdale, dancer Kayla Hamilton, and writer Ryan Knighton. All were surprised with diagnoses of degrading vision, forced to rethink their mediums, and change their respective work environments to accommodate their loss of sight. This chronicling, split into chapters, fortunately, provides the bulk of “Vision Portraits’” relatively short run-time.

Dugdale - Surprise - Diagnosis - Photographer - Disability

Dugdale’s surprise diagnosis actually made him a more prolific photographer, working through his disability through his medium. While Knighton, who we see monologuing about his impairment, has centralized his story within his writing, including penning a memoir about his diagnosis (his segment, in many ways, recalling Spalding Gray’s “Gray’s Anatomy”). The connecting tissue between all these artists, including Evans, is how having to rethink the way in which they process their art form has made them more conscious of other...
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