An enlightening and poignant coming of age documentary, Do You Dream In Color? captures the inspired journeys of four courageous blind teens as they face the challenges and frustrations of living in a sighted world. There’s, Connor 14, who uses echo-location to improve his skateboarding skills so he can join a skateboarding team. Sixteen-year-old Sarah dreams of studying in Portugal, where her mother was born. Nick, 15, a gifted musician, hopes to form a punk rock band and go on tour. Carina, 17, who lost her sight at age 12, struggles to finish high school with the tireless help of her single mother. Their extraordinary stories underscore the social and institutional obstacles faced by the blind and what it takes to surmount these barriers. In this one-on-one interview, director Abigail Fuller shares her insights in making this compelling documentary.
Watching these courageous teens was truly inspiring for those of us lucky enough to be sighted. What inspired you to make this emotionally uplifting film?
Abigail Fuller: The film kind of found us. It was a journey we went on after film school. The original concept was to make an artsy, animated film about the dreams of blind people. In the process, we started connecting with different organizations, youth camps and programs that allowed us to learn about the blind on a very human level. The film morphed from examination of blind peoples’ dreams to one that explores their real-life journeys. Having never been exposed to blind people, we were astonished by their courage, as well as the obstacles they faced. So we wanted to tell their story and share it with others.
With so many blind people, what drew you to these particular teens?
Abigail: There was something special about them, their courage and wisdom, their journeys, goals and philosophies of life. We started by asking them about their nighttime dreams and they came back with things like, “I have to practice my skateboarding because I want to get sponsored.” That surprised us, and we thought maybe we should film some of that. So we were drawn into their lives very organically.
I have to admit, I was surprised by their far-reaching goals.
Abigail: Many of us don’t have high expectations of blind people, simply because we don’t know them, we haven’t experienced them or conversed with them. So we don’t really know what they’re capable of or what to expect from them. As we got to know them, we realized that we could expect just as much from them as a sighted person. So we chose teens in the film that would exemplify the fact that blind people may not be your super prodigies like Stevie Wonder or climbers that scale Mount Everest, but they’re also not homeless and helpless. They’re just like the rest of us. They have their own talents and dreams that vary from person to person.
What was it like dealing with the parents of these kids?
Abigail: They were very remarkable. In some cases, parents of blind teens can be a bit overprotective and coddling, which can stunt their ability to achieve the goals and dreams they have. But the parents of these teens were very supportive and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.
What did you find most challenging in making this film?
Abigail: We kind of went off to make this film before we were ready to take on all of the production and post-production tasks. Both logistics and financing posed obstacles. Then there was editing down all the footage and changing the narrative. We had limited resources, so we had to do many things ourselves.
How has making this film changed you?
Abigail: It made us more empathetic to the blind community. It changed our expectations of what blind people are capable of. When you’re 23 and exposed to these issues you become aware of the societal barriers blind people face. It’s an educational process and you quickly learn to overcome the challenges and roadblocks in making a film like this.
Was there one teen that affected you more emotionally than the rest?
Abigail: They are all wonderful in their own way. I personally connected, in some way, with Sarah. I participated in the same AFS program when I was in high school. So seeing the challenges she faced reminded me that I didn’t have those challenges. Her GPA was better and she was more adept at language than I was. It was also her love of food and nature, and her wisdom that I thought was really powerful.
What do you think audiences should take away from this film?
Abigail: Not to judge a book by its cover. That this human experience is very relatable, and that being different is not something to be looked down upon. They should realize that these people bring a diversity and strength to their communities, as well as different ways to navigate and solve problems. By sharing in their journey, it can inspire your own.
What have you learned about the support systems currently available to blind teens?
Abigail: Mostly inadequate. Funding and advocacy varies from house to house. So there’s a line they have to cross to be on an equal playing field. Many kids are simply shut out and if they don’t have someone to look out for them, they tend to fall through the cracks in terms of support.
The statistics at the end of the film were particularly disheartening.
Abigail: It’s sad that 70 percent of the blind are unemployed. It’s a complex issue. These problems start early when teachers allow blind kids to pass classes because of the extra effort it takes to work with them and get the special materials they need. So when these kids graduate, they’re not prepared with the same skill sets and education level as sighted students. They face the issue of literacy with Braille and attitudinal barriers. There’s also the fact that many blind kids are told at an early age that they can’t handle the workload, that geometry is visual so it’s not for them, and that they can’t play sports. They also don’t see other blind peoples’ success stories. With all of that, they start to believe what they’re taught. So after they repeatedly try and fail to get a job, they become complacent with their SSI checks and just sit at home.
Do you plan a follow-up film so we can see how these teens grow into young adults?
Abigail: Not at this point. We are in the process of organizing a screening series through the National Federation for the Blind, which would allow us to have young adults in the film who would interact with blind kids. We’ve done some of that already with the Camp for Blind Youth.
Do You Dream In Color? will be shown in select theaters during the first quarter 2017 and VOD February 10th.