Last year broadcasters across the U.S. premiered “SIGHT – The Story of Vision”, a one-hour documentary directed by Kris Koenig and narrated by Sir Elton John. It traces the progress in eye care over the past 800 years, as well as the growing worldwide vision crisis and efforts undertaken by individuals and organizations to resolve it. The documentary also includes testimonials from Essilor and the Vision Impact Institute. Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to talk to Kris and to get some insights on this project.
Kris, why Sight?
My late partner Anita Ingrao first conceived that SIGHT would be a film on the history of spectacles, but we quickly realized that content surrounding vision was much greater than just eyewear. We held the film’s launch meeting (preproduction brainstorming session) at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and waht emerged from that meeting were the four main story threads of the film – history, technology, medicine and humanity of human vision and the road map we used to produce the film.
Before you started to work on this project, did you ever think about the importance of healthy vision or URE as a global healthcare crisis?
We just assume here in the U.S. that everyone has access to vision care and eye wear, but they don’t.
To be honest, no. We just assume here in the U.S. that everyone has access to vision care and eye wear, but they don’t. There is also an awareness issue for many with access that don’t realize they have a vision problem. The combination of access and awareness will be difficult to overcome without major efforts from both governments and private sector in poor or emerging countries as well as in at-risk-communities in developed countries.
The movie helps understanding vision science and its history and at the same time it is providing education about the worldwide vision crisis. It also tells us the stories of individuals who struggle with vision loss and blindness. What was your major goal by combining these three approaches?
When you produce an educational film for general audiences you need to make sure that the story doesn’t get bogged down in factual details or your audience will lose interest. You also need to develop a good emotional hook. Including the individual stories of struggle in the film, we were able to keep emotions high while still being able to convey the factual details that we wanted the audience to learn.
Why was Elton John chosen as a narrator and how was the collaboration with him?
There was only one voice that Anita wanted in the film and that was Elton’s. Elton is synonymous with fashion eye wear so it was easy to see him as the narrator. We were lucky to make contact with him though a mutual friend and he agreed to read as the narrator fulfilling Anita’s last request. It’s too bad she wasn’t able to be in the studio when he read.
Elton is one of the most professional individuals I have ever met. He had obviously rehearsed the script before I arrived at Rocket Studios in London and when we started to record the narration it went smoothly and with only few retakes. In comparison, my past projects required several hours each of recording to capture the narration. Elton only needed 45 minutes.
What did strike you most when you did your research on the different vision related themes threatened in the movie? What did surprise you most?
(…) there are millions of individuals that haven’t got a clue that they have a vision issue.
Myopia, RP, cataracts and age related macular degeneration were the main thieves of sight that we were focused on going into the production, but uncorrected refractive error was the biggest surprise. Living in the developed world you assume everyone has access to a pair of glasses. The follow-on to that is that there are millions of individuals that haven’t got a clue that they have a vision issue. Without the ability to compare and contrast their uncorrected vision to corrected vision they go about their daily lives unaware that they’re functioning with diminished sight and productivity.
Talking about 2.5 New Vision Generation, Essilor’s inclusive business arm, briefly featured in the movie, do you think that this initiative will have an impact on how the next generations in developing countries “see the world”?
The adaptability of your staff that I saw on the ground in Mexico, India and Brazil is what is going to create successes as you continue to roll out 2.5 New Vision Generation across the globe.
I think using micro-business development and financing in emerging world economies to solve U.R.E. is a brilliant idea. The adaptability of your staff that I saw on the ground in Mexico, India and Brazil is what is going to create successes as you continue to roll out 2.5 New Vision Generation across the globe. Each program is as unique as the country that they function in and you purposely avoid the “one size fits all” approach to avoid failure.
What other initiatives to fight against impaired vision – the world’s largest disability –featured in the documentary do you think have the most potential?
There are hundreds of initiatives in research and development as well as improving access to vision screenings and affordable vision products (glasses, contacts) that will each eliminate a specific part of the vision crisis. It will take all of them and many more to rid the World of blindness but I believe that within fifty years we will. Clearing the backlog of cataracts and testing every child and adult for URE can be easily done if every country would make it a health priority.
How will the movie be promoted to reach as many people as possible?
We are working with our international distributor to get the film broadcast around the world, but ultimately digital streaming via iTunes and Amazon will be were most individuals will get an opportunity to watch the film. Here in the USA the film as already received over 1,200 broadcast by 130+ Public Broadcasting System affiliates (stations) with more broadcast coming in the next year.
Can you share anything about your next documentary projects with us?
It’s too early to mention them now but I three in development at the moment. Ask me again in six months and will be able to share with you what the films will be about.
Learn more about Sight – The Story of Vision on this website.
Kris Koenig is the CEO of Koenig Films, is a film producer from the ground up. Before founding Koenig Films, his expertise in camera work, interviewing, lighting, editing, and production management was demonstrated in the ten-hour PBS telecourse Astronomy: Observations and Theories, for which he won two Emmy® Awards in 2006, for Instructional Programming and Outstanding Non-news Writer. 2009 saw the premier of PBS’s 400 Years of the Telescope, a NSF-awarded $3M, three-year project, which Koenig conceived and managed as principal investigator (PI) and was producer, director, photographer and writer. He has gone on to produce films on gangs and guns in America and water in Africa.