Tod Purvis and Justin Purvis suffer from a hereditary condition known as choroideremia. With each passing day, their eyesight deteriorates, with the potential for blindness not too far off in the future. While their eyesight is still strong enough to appreciate the experience, the pair set off on a cross-country loop through the United States, with the idea that they will visit the big attractions, like the Grand Canyon, but be willing to change plans on a whim to explore other spots too, meeting friends, family and strangers along the way, to spread the word about choroideremia, and also to help them learn how to deal with the condition.
The challenge of reviewing Brian James Griffo’s documentary, Driving Blind, is in separating the sentimental attachment to the intention from the final execution of the film. As far as the film being a travelogue of adventures the brothers Purvis went on as their eyesight deteriorated, as a time capsule for themselves, friends and family, I think it works. I think there’s also the idea of appreciating what you have, and seizing each day. There’s also aspects of the film that are brilliantly therapeutic and offer opportunities for catharsis for those involved, as well as the educational opportunities that exist for spreading the word about choroideremia. In all those ways, the film succeeds.
But the audience for that experience is the brothers, their family, friends or other people affected by choroideremia. For the rest of us, what starts out as an interesting idea slowly becomes like a home movie of someone’s vacation. It’s brutal to say as much, but that’s how it feels. While I can understand, given the circumstances, that wanting to put as much imagery on the screen as possible, often edited over a music bed, is a way to make the point that we should truly be appreciating what we see, it’s also an arm’s length point. If we’re watching this film, and don’t know the brothers, or someone likewise afflicted, then the entire experience is cursory. Maybe there’s a revelation to be found here, but more likely it’ll come from our own personal touchstones than watching someone else experience theirs.
In other words, I don’t know that I’m the audience for this film, and I don’t know that anyone who doesn’t have a connection to this condition, or knows someone who does, is the audience either. At least not as it currently is. Frankly, I feel like two cuts of this film should exist. The lengthier one for those most likely to understand more intimately what’s going on, such as the brothers’ friends, family and those who know others with choroideremia, and a much shorter cut for the rest of us.
The shorter cut, I’m thinking in the ten to fifteen minute range, would go miles to make this film more structured and focused. It’d allow the film to have a tighter point, and it’d make sure that the moments where it felt like a home movie would be lessened. It’d allow for a greater range of appreciation and exposure for the film, and even if you’re not entirely engaged, it’ll be done sooner. Simply, as a short documentary piece, this could really excel and, if it doesn’t, little harm done if this other cut still exists.
As a feature length documentary, however, it feels like a well-intentioned home movie. An extremely well-shot home movie (this film looks great), and one that certainly has a deft editorial hand, just one that obviously wasn’t interested in crafting something short (though I feel would be perfectly capable of doing so). Ultimately, again, it’s a challenge to separate the intention from the execution. The intention and the idea are worthy of applause, and the filmmaking team is obviously more than competent enough to create something of substance. The execution here, however, feels belabored and bloated.
Again, though, I don’t think I’m the audience for this film. A shorter cut could allow for that audience to expand, as it would change things drastically, but as is the film will have the most impact for those most affected by choroideremia. For the rest of us, it’s like watching someone’s well-shot and edited vacation video.
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