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Eyes of Me, The
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by Jay Seaver

"American (Visually-Impaired) Teen."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: My first reaction to "The Eyes of Me" was "okay, for a movie whose natural home is local public television". That's at least a bit unfair - there's really nothing in it that would limit its appeal to Texans - but it's also nothing to particularly be ashamed of. As movies of local interest go, "The Eyes of Me" is solidly informative and a bit creative in delivering that information.

The film follows four students at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin, which both functions as a boarding school that teaches a standard curriculum to those who can't see and a place where the newly blinded can learn to handle everyday tasks. Two of the students are just starting out and two are about to graduate. The freshman are Denise, a shy girl working her way out of her shell, and Isaac, whose loss of vision is recent enough that he is still adjusting. The seniors are Meagan, a student leader working to be valedictorian, and Chas, who raps under the name One2Cee. The seniors are also participating in a program where they split their time between TSBVI and a local high school, and Chas has also moved off-campus with a friend.

It's a pretty interesting group of kids, even putting aside the disability they have in common. Yes, many movies will try to showcase a cross-section of teenagers, but even the documentaries often seem to home in on the ones who fill roles. A shy girl will often be expressive or iconic in her shyness, for instance, but Denise isn't like that; she's just a girl who tends to take half-steps sometimes. Granted, on the other end of the spectrum, there's Chas, who is a pretty natural performer, even though he can't see the camera.

Not seeing the camera may help a lot in making the whole picture seem more genuine; even though the subjects must know about it, they can't be quite so constantly aware of its location and focus. Director Keith Maitland also employs animation to depict what it is like to be blind as the subjects describe it (none of the four were born blind, and most still retain some ability to at least distinguish light and dark). He doesn't spend too much time on blindness in general, just enough to give us a little context while focusing on the lives of the kids - things like Denise's first crush and Chas's roommate problems.

There are still times - quite a few, actually - when some combination of keeping the subjects' trust and the fact that this is not a production that can afford to follow four kids 24/7 for an entire school year sometimes seems to leave some big gaps. One person more or less disappears around the midway point, and when the reason why is given in subtitle, it's human nature to respond like, hey, you've got to either tell me more or cut this person out entirely; that's just too much to let the audience fill in on their own. That happens, to a lesser extent, with all four kids: Even with Meagan, the achiever of the group, it's a bit unclear whether she's aiming to be valedictorian at TSBVI or the other school she attends; she brings it up while the film is focusing on the dual enrollment and she seems to want to make a point about what she can do in a broader sense than just her, personally, but the film is oddly muted when it comes up later.

Of course, it's natural to play it conservative when dealing with kids, and I can't say I'd want Maitland and company to do otherwise. It leaves "The Eyes of Me" a little lightweight, but still interesting, which is a perfectly fine thing for it to be.

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originally posted: 04/19/09 05:18:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

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3/30/13 Alan Great movie 5 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 27-Jul-2010



Directed by
  Keith Maitland

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