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By David Finkelstein | June 25, 2007

“A Shift in Perception” is an experimental documentary portrait of three older blind women in Australia, Leander, Edna, and Rhonda. The soundtrack interweaves interviews of the three women, in which they talk about their dreams (as in actual dreams, not wishes) as well as their daily activities and the strategies they have developed to cope with blindness. They have a wide range of interests, including cooking, needlework, and music. They stubbornly resist the label “disabled,” and patiently explain that they do not feel that their lives are lacking in anything essential.

The black and white Super 8 footage employs a variety of visual strategies to illustrate this film on sightlessness, with varying success. The best footage gives us a kinetic and tactile sense of the women’s experience, how touch, sound and smells are dominant in their experience. A sequence where the camera sits behind a shopping cart, wheeling around the aisles of a supermarket, helps us to immediately understand how the weight and feel of the cart itself helps Rhonda to navigate, and a shot of jangling keys clarifies how she so easily locates the store manager for assistance.

The film also uses playful stop motion animation. A sequence with dancing cans of food helps to show how important it is to know where objects are stored. Many of the shots, however, are gratingly literal illustrations of images which are already perfectly clear from the vivid text of the interviews, such as shots of seagulls which accompany Leander’s thoughts on the seashore. These shots feel superfluous, since they show us what we can already easily imagine.

Apart from these overly literal shots, the film succeeds overall in creating a gentle and sympathetic portrait of lives which, despite our cliched ideas about the elderly and the blind, are full and satisfying. The film is greatly aided in this by Alex Carpenter’s gentle and lulling guitar music.

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