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‘Do You Dream in Color?’ (review)

Produced by Abigail Fuller, Sarah Ivy,
Regina Saldivar, Ryland Aldrich,
Chiemi Karasawa, Douglas Haack,
Lloyd Bryan Adams, Annette Hobday

Directed by Abigail Fuller, Sarah Ivy
Starring Connor Head, Nick Helms,
Carina Orozco, Sarah Wright

A good documentary can make us feel and learn.  Well-made documentaries tell a true story in such way that the audience has no choice but to get invested in the issue, people and narrative.

A strong documentary narrative crackles with power and purpose.

Do You Dream in Color? stands on the edge of being a good documentary and falls short.

Directors Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy follow the lives of four blind teenagers as they try and achieve their dreams. The dreams span music, extreme sports, travel and graduation.

On the surface they seem similar to the dreams of every teenager in America, but the directors layer in the complexity that blindness brings to the equation.

Connor is a blind skateboarder who longs to be sponsored on a skate team. He’s the most engaging and charismatic of the teens.  Learning about the challenges of skateboarding blind is mildly interesting.  If you are a fan of Daredevil you will really enjoy the 2 minutes he spends talking about it.  Connor’s family interactions and friends are not generally compelling. Teen aged stuff with a teen aged dreamer looking for more.

Sarah’s mother passed away when she was younger and the loss has left a hole in Sarah’s identity,  She longs to travel and study in Portugal, her mother’s homeland.  Her entire narrative is built around getting accepted into a travel abroad program. The dramatic anticipation seems very forced and the directors go back to similar imagery over and over again as if they didn’t have enough footage.  There are also some strange scenes where Sarah’s teachers and support system meet without her and it seems scripted. It seems so disjointed at times it distracts from the story the directors were trying to tell.

Nick is a blind musician with dreams of more. Sighted people are pretty comfortable with blind songwriters and musicians thanks to Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, so this dream isn’t particularly aggressive or unrealistic. It is a fairly common tale of a high school band trying to make good and one of the members of the band happens to be blind. Nick’s family interactions are sweet and his relationship with his twin brother is one of the more interesting sub plots in the documentary, but right when it seems like we are getting to something real, we jump to a new topic.

Carina is a second generation Mexican immigrant who wants to be the first member of her family to graduate from high school and go to college.  Her relationship with her mother is the most compelling one in the documentary.  Her mother’s worry and pain feel real and unforced.  The struggle of being a blind student under-served in a public school is clearly demonstrated but right when the directors could have gotten deeply into a serious issue, they moved on to a new topic.

The real challenge with Do You Dream In Color? is a simple one.  The directors didn’t bother to go deep into the stories. Telling four stories in just over an hour is too much crammed into too little time. Carina is a compelling figure, with real challenges and emotional complexity, carrying the burden of her mother’s dreams for her, but we don’t spend enough time with her to really understand.

Another failure in the story telling is glossing over some really important issues facing the blind community. The documentary tells us at one point that there is over 70% unemployment in the blind community of the United States, but doesn’t address any of the real reasons why. What are the real systemic challenges public schools face when trying to meet their obligations to blind children? We never really learn anything of substance about what these kids are facing at the institutional level.

In the areas the film grabbed me, it let me go just as fast. In the moments I was touched, I wasn’t given a chance to invest in the person I was feeling for. The joyous moments and the sad ones seemed forced, engineered to fit the fragmented narrative.

Overall the children in the film are likable, but I never learned enough about them to truly care.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5


Do You Dream in Color? arrives on VOD on February 10th


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