“Going blind is a fear of darkness when you can see. Darkness has a different meaning when you are born blind” states filmmaker Maria Teresa Larrain at one point in her moving documentary Shadow Girl. For Larrain, going blind has been both a source of fear and inspiration. After years of working in the visual medium of film, Larrain discovered that she had inherited the same progressive myopia that took her mother’s, and eventually her brother’s, eye sight.
Attempting to come to terms with her impending blindness, Larrain channeled her emotions into her art and documented her struggles on film. Frequently blurring the lens to simulate for the audience the stages in which her sight degenerated, Larrain is mindful not to rely solely on such techniques. As much as this is a film about losing one’s sight, it is also about finding the inner strength to deal with the curveballs that life throws at us.
In Shadow Girl this strength comes from the most unlikely of sources, a group of blind street vendors in her homeland of Chile. Struggling with the loss of income from not being able to make films, and fighting the Canadian government to receive the disability benefits she deserved, it was her brief return to Chile that put life in perspective for both Larrain and the audience. Amidst the tear gas and political protest that painted the Chilean streets, it was the sightless street vendors, working daily even after having their permits revoke, that provide the film with some of its most life-affirming moments.
Larrain may question how does one prepare for blindness? However, the film is not interested in providing an instructional guide. Instead it is more concerned with how we capture the beauty of life itself; both that which we can and cannot see. Our visual sense is merely a small part of who we are as people. Similar to the blind individuals who Larrain shows her film to towards the end of Shadow Girl, providing the descriptions herself as they watch, it is easy to feel the poetic beauty of the film’s views on life.