Katarina Blažič’s Five Hour Conversations
a conversation between Katarina Blažič and Sandra Jovanovska
The film Five Hour Conversations explores a blind person's view of the world from their own perspective, written in a rhymed monologue. It is the graduate film of Katarina Blažič a young Slovenian animator living in Barcelona, produced by the University of Nova Gorica, School of Arts, made. The short was made based on an interview with Tommas Edison (blind since birth) and explores how blind people interact with their environment. The narration forms a poetic coherence with the visuals, mainly build upon a simplistic animated, illustrative counterpoint. For First Crossings this unique vision was intriguing not just because of this year’s leitmotif of sound in image, but also due to the various border connotations in terms of its content and form.
We had an e-talk with Katarina, and asked her to bring closer the perspective of the blind person interviewed in her film. She thereby shared her written theoretical diploma work with us, where she revealed how art (especially drawing) is not being encouraged to blind people, due to the fact that they don’t see. However, she discovered how in the book “Art beyond sight” the writer debates upon the way blind people draw. Namely, they usually focus on the edges of the objects, which can otherwise be felt by touch, thus often incorporate and draw powerful contours that can almost be felt through the image.
Picture 1: A blind person’s sketch of a bird
Source: Salzhauer Axel in Sobol Levent, 2002, str. 75
When it comes to sound, we discover a unique worldview perspective through the protagonist’s perception. Tommy claims that his sense for recognizing and orienting towards sound is probably much better than that of an average person, as he can rely just on that. Tommy can recognize other people’s sounds more quickly, especially sounds that are not typical (Edison 2017). He can for example locate exactly in which part of the house his sister is on the basis of her walk. Another example of this unique vision is watching films. Tommy is a film critic, mastered at film dialogue. He usually listens to films without a narrator’s sound description, and then again listens with an audio description, to understand the action better.
In the animation we encounter this verse:
I remember by ear,
I recall by voice,
I rely on the sound and not by choice.
What is fascinating here is the fact that a blind person’s memory is built largely on sound. Unlike most people relying typically on their visual recollection, Tommy has a mental library of reminiscences of sound, smell and touch. Hence one of the most interesting thoughts of the protagonist is his experience of dreams. When he dreams, he doesn’t see the picture because his subconscious doesn’t know what the thing looks like. When he dreams, he experiences taste, sound, smell and touch. In dreams, the same thing happens to him as to the people who see, so he hears unrealistic sounds, dreams strange, unusual things and the like. Thus his imagination is articulated in a different way, than the one of the people who see.
Body parts puzzle from the stills in Five Hour Conversation
Finally we asked Katerina to answer some of our questions, in reference to her film and the intricate conception of the world of Thomas Eddison.
1. Your film was selected to take part in our festival in the video poetry section. How would you categorize it? Why?
The film has been categorized as an experimental documentary and with that said it’s very flexible since it’s based on an interview where the words of the script transposed into the animation. I got intrigued by the way Thomas Eddison explained his side of the story. That’s why I decided to write the script as close to his words as possible. The script was written in a way that almost seems like a poem and at the same time as a dialog of his thoughts.
2. Can one watch your film just by listening?
The sound and the script was of great importance since the theme is about understanding a bit more about the world of blind people. The film was made in a way where if a person has a specific visual impairment can also enjoy the movie. We worked together with Mateja Starič on the sound and sound effects to really get that raw feel to the animation. We were interested in explaining the environment and the sound effects in a very organic way, complementing the voice-over. We always tried to complement the image where the sound helped put the viewer in the environment that we were explaining. Since the animation has so little elements, the sound needed to explain what wasn’t explained in the images.
3. Relying mostly on sound, scent, touch and intuition, how do you think that shapes a person?
It’s the small things that you recognize or like in a person when they express themselves physically. You can like a smell of a person or recognize them by their hands, which I show quite a lot in the film, for that reason specifically. Hands are something that can have a lot of personality and it’s a great way of showing the characteristics of a person. These are important characteristics when it comes down to getting to know a person without having the advantage of seeing them.
Still 1 from Five Hour Conversation
4. How did it feel to create the visual landscape for a blind person's worldview?
While I spoke with Thomas, at first I was very interested in what he actually sees, but that changed. From my experience, he perceives and lives the world with textures, sounds, feels, etc. so in the end what he sees is not important. I started to create the visual part of the animation from references of how blind people draw shapes, objects, etc. and from there I have taken the characteristics of lines that they draw and made them in a very simple way so they can be easily understood. They vary depending on what I am explaining; objects have simpler lines, Thomas was drawn in a more organic and detailed way and when I’m talking about something real and tactile it’s in 3D, which happens just on three occasions.
Still 2 from Five Hour Conversation
5. Did you have the opportunity to spend more time with a blind person, and in which amount did this open your eyes?
While I was doing the research, I took my time to understand at least a little bit how they perceive the world. I’ve started the research focused more on the visual side and ended up seeing that I needed to focus on everything but that, at least at the beginning. Blind people have a different perception of relationships, spaces, people, everything. We talked with Thomas about anything from how he enjoys the beach to how he meets new people. From my experience, I like the beach because I can see clear water, an endless horizon, or a beautiful sunset. For Thomas, it’s important that there is good ambient, that he hears people, children running around, the waves that calm him, etc. The same happens with meeting new people. When Thomas meets a new person he needs to talk with them at least for a few minutes to see what the person is like, since people can sometimes be quick to judge based on the appearance and body language.
6. In your opinion what is the advantage of experiencing the world without eyes?
The advantage of experiencing the world without sight, at least from what I was explained is that you don't think as much about superficial stuff and you are more open to know new people. It generalizes a lot, but when you think about it, it makes sense. When you are alone, trying to find the right metro, the fastest way is to ask a person.
Still 3 from Five Hour Conversation
7. Last but not least, make up your own question and answer it as you see fit.
Katarina’s question: Did this project grow on you?
I think that because I talked to Tommy, seen so many of his and other related videos, and talked to other blind people, the project really grew on me. Since I'm a visual person, working with visuals every day, it made me think and focus on other ways of explaining a story. Also, the way they explained how they experience their day to day life, how they manage to do their everyday tasks with barriers, was to me something incredible. The way they see people it’s from my understanding very different and pure in a manner of speaking.
Interviewer: Sandra Jovanovska
Interviewee: Katarina Blažič