The World Is Finally Making Movies For Blind People — & It Means More To Me Than You’ll Ever Know

As a blind woman, it might come as a surprise for people to know that I’m a regular at my closest cinema. I may or may not have watched Barbie and Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour three times each, with my guide dog Banner snoring at my feet. (In case you’re wondering, I think his favourite film was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but that may have had something to do with all the popcorn on the floor). It does seem to bewilder some people as to how people with blindness or low vision can watch movies, interacting with content that is inherently visual.
But now, the world has finally been gifted with the first feature-length motion picture without pictures — something that might sound like the opposite of what a movie should be. Directed by Tony Krawitz and presented by Mastercard, Touch uses only the power of sound to tell its story, and it sets a new precedent for inclusivity in film for a community often left in the dark.
At a cursory glance, the crowd arriving at the Westpac OpenAir Cinema for the premiere of Touch (which I was invited to attend on behalf of R29), would appear like any other. Groups of friends, family units and children of all ages. A steady stream of people along the waterfront, chatting with excitement at the premiere screening they were about to attend.
Ingrid Barnes at the 'TOUCH' movie premiere with her guide dog Banner
But it wouldn’t take long to notice the standout accessories. From white canes of various lengths and styles to four-legged companions in shades of gold and black sporting elegant harnesses — mobility aids for those living with blindness and low vision. This was no ordinary movie-going crowd. But the film Touch wasn’t either. Touch is a movie without images, therefore challenging the very concept of film itself.
For me, I can't see why film can't be a medium where everyone feels included. Being blind, at least for me, is a crash course in self-advocacy and a lifelong lesson in patience as we try to educate the general public. But I am just one voice in millions, with so many minds to change. Ultimately, a real shift only happens when someone such as myself is allowed in the room, to be a part of the conversation regarding accessibility.
This is why a film like Touch is so remarkable. It authentically considers a community, avoiding tokenism and embracing genuine representation. Having Ben Phillips as the director’s attachment allowed him to share his invaluable lived experience as someone who has been blind since birth, not to mention the numerous others with low vision and blindness involved in every step as cast and crew. To tell a feature-length story without pictures, the first of its kind in Australian cinema, is certainly a daring move. 
90% of those with blindness are not living in the total dark. Blindness, like so much of the human experience, is a spectrum — caused by a myriad of genetic diseases, illnesses, accidents and neurological complications. There is no one universal experience. My condition, recessive Retinitis Pigmentosa, leaves me with a four-degree central field of tunnel vision, which will go away with time. 
The choice to rely purely on sound alone, Krawitz mused, was to level the playing field “so no matter what your level of sight is, this is all about listening,” Krawitx said during the premiere. To tell a story with voice and music and sound certainly leaves a great deal to the imagination to make the characters look and dress however you please. But I couldn’t resist mentioning the spectrum of our experience as blind people at the pre-film Q&A, so sighted people might be a little wiser.
Ingrid Barnes at the 'TOUCH' movie premiere with the director's attachment, Ben Phillips
It was very clear that Krawitz' attachment, Phillips, truly understood the responsibility of representing our community in the creation of this film. "Being in a privileged position that I am here representing… all the others that are blind around the world, I did my absolute best to imagine what you would want in film," he said during the premiere. "So you were in the very forefront of my mind when I gave advice and we made this film for you.” I know that many of us are truly grateful for that. 

"What is a movie, really? Does it have to have images to count?"

Ingrid barnes
As we found our seats and my guide dog settled at my feet, the screen rose, the main title lingered... then went black. We all took a leap of faith, and the journey through sound began. 
If I had to use one word to describe the film, it would be: interesting.
While I adore the thought and sincerity behind it and the wholly unique experience it created, did I actually like the movie? The vibe of Touch is as if Pixar’s Inside Out was popped into a blender with haphazard spoonfuls of zany Russel T. Davies Doctor Who scenarios, a dash of The Magic School Bus bizarre educational content and a heavy-handed sprinkle of an Indiana Jones father/son classic conflict. It was not entirely appropriate for an all-ages event, which was not clear from the outset. It was not particularly groundbreaking in its storyline of generational trauma and rather clichéd in its quick fixes and rose-tinted glasses ending.
It was as if the scriptwriters weren’t entirely sure of the tone, or their audience. I would have loved to have been taken on an adventure — an emotional roller coaster with intrigue and complexities — rather than a rather two-dimensional, slightly confused family drama. 
But as for the soundscape? That was a different story entirely.
By pulling your characters through contrasting environments, you are gifting the sound engineers and editors a glorious playground. I may not have particularly cared for the writing — but the sound? Imagine an exaggerated chef’s kiss in the whole team’s direction.
It was a masterclass in incredibly detailed tapestries of foley effects (the reproduction of everyday sounds) and music to simulate visceral individual environments that immediately transported the listener. Every little noise was crafted with care, layered with award-worthy skill and showcased in fabulous Dolby Surround. A radio play or audiobook played in stereo could never compete with the depth and complexity of space created in this film. It's to be expected by the likes of award-winning sound editor Wayne Pashley, whose recent credits include Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis. You might have some whiplash after bouncing from the Wild West into an old diner — but you can clearly imagine exactly where you’re supposed to be. 
Did I enjoy the film? It was weird and wacky, and not exactly what I expected. But I am very glad to have gone on that ride. 

"The joy of sitting amongst so many who have faced so many similar daily challenges — I will never forget that feeling. The joy of that moment is something that no movie magic has ever achieved before." 

ingrid barnes
Fundamentally, to me and my community, the value of Touch goes far beyond the story it tells. The content is not the reason why people with low vision or blindness filled the seats at the OpenAir Cinema with their friends and families. We may not have the same experience of blindness, but we have all lived in the same world that is not often accessible, and not always inclusive.
Here was a film from a creative team that chose to invest their time, money and energy into a project with consideration for our community. The best welcome was to have so many staff on hand, with Guide Dogs NSW/ACT team members alongside those from the cinema, treating everyone with warmth and respect. The joy of sitting amongst so many who have faced so many similar daily challenges, who work for their independence and live such vibrant lives in spite of what society might assume — I will never forget that feeling. The joy of that moment is something that no movie magic has ever achieved before. 
What is a movie, really? Does it have to have images to count? On one hand, I would say yes, but then again, a hundred years ago, film didn’t have sound. So why not jump to the other end of that spectrum? Although not a perfect experience, Touch makes an incredible step in the right direction. It keeps that conversation around accessibility going.
Maybe we can have a film one day that filters through different eye conditions on screen, allowing others to experience a little more of our world. I’m all for more empathy, representation and social change. Just as Phillips said, "I hope that Touch paves the way for how we tell stories and make films in the future.” 
We may not have ‘seen’ a film on Tuesday night. But we went through the exact same ceremony of attending the movies as anyone else. We sat together in the dark, facing the same direction at a screen. We told our neighbours to shush when they talked. I hoped, as usual, that my guide dog’s snores weren’t bothering anyone. We reacted to the same piece of media as one. The message is clear. If you make a film with such care for the disabled community in mind, we will be there to support it.
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