Interview with Manuel von Stürler: Lust For Sight
When a filmmaker is told by his doctor that he can’t see colours, he sets out to define what it means to see. The knowledge that he may lose it all fuels his lust for sight. Director Manuel von Stürler takes us on an autobiographical journey to find the origins of his encroaching blindness and discover who really knows what he can actually see – his doctors or himself. Ahead of Lust For Sight screening as a part of Sydney Film Festival’s Screenability program we spoke with Manuel about the film’s production and his filmmaking process.
What does it mean for you to have been selected to screen at the inaugural Screenability program at Sydney Film Festival.
I feel grateful for the loyalty the festival has shown to me. Inaugurating a new selection dedicated to disability is a true pleasure. Furthermore, it follows the spirit of my new film in questioning the established standard. It tells how we all have a unique sight, and is very personal, whether you are living with a disability or not.
Your film, Lust for Sight, followers your own quest to find out what visual perception means, as you deal with your own experience of losing your eyesight. What challenges did you face as a participant in the documentary as you were dealing with changes to your sight?
My condition didn’t evolve during the four long years directing the film, luckily!
What evolved positively is my confidence towards the disease and the recognition that sight is a pleasure and an extraordinary enrichment that is far more crucial than practical sight.
The further I went with the investigation, the more I realised that my early childhood diagnosis had played a crucial part in my evolvement. It gave me a strong temperament.
Can you tell us about the choice to shoot the documentary in an expository style?
The subjective camera was a predominant choice. My patient status allowed me to enter institutions that are often reluctant about the camera. I took to heart to restore the intimacy of the discussions, for allowing the viewer to feel as a privileged witness, or even better, to appropriate the dialogue and question itself.
It is also an aesthetic choice, a cinematographic experience!
The central question of the documentary asks ‘what does it mean to see?’ Through making the documentary did you gain new insights into what it means to have vision.
I had never realised how much we see with our brains, how much we first have to learn to see to be able to do so. I had the common idea that you simply have to open your eyes for the world to pop up. That is not the case. Our brain does a staggering amount of work, depending on what it has seen before so it can understand the present, with the help of other senses. So yes, I learned that we only see what we can see; we can’t get a hold of so many things around us, with or without visual impairment.
Can you share with us the funding pathway for the film?
Luckily a renowned production company supported me; together we defended the project and convinced the institutions that sustain Swiss cinema. We also got the support of national television, which works intensively for the subsistence of documentary films. A French co-producer joined the project along the way, and together, with loads of energy and belief, we completed the film.
As well as directing Lust for sight you also co-wrote, the script, how did you develop the script with Claude Muret?
It is not like fiction screenwriting, it is intended to clear up the main lines of action. It is a preparatory work to avoid going off in all different directions when the shooting starts. It was also important to work on the biographic side, finding balance enriching the narrative without being pathetic.
Did you find anything unique in making this documentary?
The difficulty of vulgarising science! There are many good reports on the matter, but making a full-length feature film is another issue.
Finally, taking in subjective sound elements, emotion and poetry, the film unfolds new paths of explorations. As if the little treasures deeply hidden in our intimate experiences broaden intellectual concepts.
For screening times of Lust For Sight check out Sydney Film Festival’s Screenability Program on this link: http://www.sff.org.au/2017-film-guide/screenability/