Thursday, July 14, 2016

Open Your Eyes: Spreading Light in Nepal

An intraocular lens is a small surgical implant that restores vision to those blinded by cataracts. They used to carry a five-hundred-dollar price tag, but they now cost less than two bucks. This probably seems unfair to congressmen with an intraocular lens factory in their districts and the local unions greasing their palms, but it has been a godsend for the curably blind in developing nations. Irene Taylor Brodsky follows an elderly Nepalese couple as they both undertake the free surgery supplied by the Seva Foundation in Open Your Eyes (trailer here), which premieres this Monday on HBO.

Durga Singh Gaha and Manisara Gaha have been legally blind for years, as a result of the potent Himalayan sun. They can do little to help their families, except do their best to mind their grandchildren, including the granddaughter they have never seen. They are completely dependent on their family, in a country with some especially cruel aphorisms regarding blindness. Yet, hope literally comes to their doorstep, courtesy of a Seva canvass team. Determining their need and eligibility, the volunteers arrange transit to the nearest city, where the Gahas will be two of over fifty cases waiting the visiting surgeon.

In many respects, OYE is like an extended PSA for the Seva Foundation’s work, but it is good work, so there are worse things to watch. Brodsky (who rather fittingly first made her filmmaking name with Hear and Now, which documented her deaf parents’ auditory implant surgery) captured a vivid sense of Nepal’s countryside and how challenging the environment would be for the blind and the aged. Unfortunately, Brodsky’s postscript informs viewers there were more hardships in store for the Gahas, in the wake of the earthquake. Yet, we can also imagine just how much harder the aftermath would have been for the couple if they were still blind.

Overall, OYE is a respectful and general compelling documentary. Clocking in just under forty minutes, it is easily manageable. Salman Ahmad’s title song, performed by Peter Gabriel gives the film further world cinematic cred. It is a very nice film that has a conspicuously bittersweet tone, for reasons beyond Brodsky’s control. Recommended for general audiences, Open Your Eyes airs this Monday (7/18) on HBO.