Sight and Sound

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Jakimowski explores how blind students use echolation to live a normal life

Written by Debesh Banerjee | New Delhi | Updated: December 7, 2014 1:02 am

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While living in a one-room pad as a university student in Warsaw, Andrzej Jakimowski would notice his neighbour moving in an out of the apartment block. “He led a very active lifestyle; all the time moving somewhere,” recalls Jakimowski, sitting in the lounge of The Maurya in Delhi. The only exception was that his neighbour was blind, but he would easily climb up and down the staircase without help or a walking stick. “I found that very unnatural for someone who cannot see at all,” says the Polish filmmaker, who, 15 years later, has made Imagine, a film about how blind people lead normal lives. Made in 2012, it is based on the technique of echolocating, used by the blind as a means to move around freely.

The film was screened for the first time in India when it opened the 3rd Kinoteka Polish Film Festival being held at the Indian Habitat Centre. The technique of echolocating helps blind people locate still objects by producing clicking sounds from their mouth and hands. “I was intrigued by how blind people were able to move about by the use of sound. The concept had a very poetic and cinematic quality to it,” says the 51-year-old filmmaker. This is Jakimowski’s third film and took more than a year of research. “I had already written a script about a person who moves around using echolocation. Then I read an article in a newspaper about a blind American named Ben Andrew, an expert at echolocation techniques and I researched deeper,” says Jakimowski. Imagine won Best Director and Audience Award at the Warsaw International Film festival in 2012.

The film revolves around a blind school in Lisbon, Portugal, where students led by their teacher, Ian, train in echolocating methods. They sit outside in the open courtyard, under the afternoon sun, and listen to every sound or movement. Initially the students hesitate to adopt the new methods of their teacher but gradually they open up to the idea. Filled with still frames and long shots, the cinematography mirrors the title of the film, as it encourages the viewer to imagine what the blind are talking about, almost becoming a part of their thought process.

During research, Jakimowski met a Polish blind teacher Henryk Weveda, who had been using this technique with his students for years. After drafting his initial script about a character who shows other blind students how to using echolocation, Jakimowski turned to the story of a blind teenager in the US, who used this technique daily. “The film is not based on any real-life personality. It is inspired by a lot of people I met and read about during my research,” says the filmmaker.

The English feature film (with Polish subtitles) stars Edward Hogg and Alexandra Maria Lara as leads, who were trained to play blind. The students in the film are all blind in real life. “I am interested to show the true image of life. So they can be sad or funny, but they have to be true. I was careful in portraying the blind people sensitively in every frame,” says Jakimowski, whose earlier films, Squint Your Eyes (2002) and Tricks (2007) also had an underlying theme of student-teacher equations.

The 3rd Polish Film Festival closes on December 12 at Alliance Francaise and India Habitat Centre. Entry: Free.  Contact: 4149696

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