June 2017

 

NEWS & OPINION

 

Award-winning documentary film draws attention to SIGHT


by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Staff Writer

   



“The reality is no one has ever done a film like this; no one has ever done a broad overview of human vision.”
—Kris Koenig



Retina animation

Post-cataract surgery in India


Usher syndrome patient Rebecca Alexander overcomes near blindness to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Source: Koenig Films Inc.

 

Narrated by Sir Elton John, educational film and its companion materials increase public awareness

Sight is arguably our most important sense,” Sir Elton John narrated in a recently produced documentary film.
While this might be an obvious statement for ophthalmologists and other eyecare professionals whose daily business involves providing patients with the best opportunity to see as well as their circumstances might allow, to much of the population, sight is often taken for granted.
And yet, as Sir Elton John continued, “no one is exempt” from ocular issues, “just growing old is a risk to our sight.”
SIGHT: The Story of Vision, a 1-hour long documentary with companion materials that include second-screen features, a detailed e-book, and planetarium program, was released on select PBS stations on World Sight Day, Oct. 13, 2016, and has had more than 1,300 broadcasts in the PBS system since. The documentary has already been recognized with several awards.
Filmmaker Kris Koenig, Koenig Films, Chico, California, said the idea for creating a comprehensive overview about the human eye was first conceived from his late wife, Anita Ingrao, who initially wanted to make a film about the history of spectacles, the blending of fashion and clinical eyecare. Mr. Koenig felt there was more to the story beyond glasses that had to be told.
“I think there is a total lack of awareness. … the reality is no one has ever done a film like this; no one has ever done a broad overview of human vision,” Mr. Koenig said.
Mr. Koenig and Ms. Ingrao, who produced the Emmy Award-winning 10-hour PBS telecourse Astronomy: Observations and Theories and the award-winning 400 Years of the Telescope, began jotting down ideas for SIGHT on their drive home to northern California after the 2013 Los Angeles premier of Assaulted, their documentary that discussed civil rights and the Second Amendment.
The pair had already been in contact with David Fleishman, MD, for his knowledge of historical spectacles and website Antique Spectacles and Other Vision Aids, and by February 2014, a meeting of 20 advisory board members, who included ophthalmologists, optometrists, industry representatives, and others, took place.
“Out of that meeting, we hammered out the four main threads [of the film], and that’s the history, technology, medicine, and humanity of human vision,” Mr. Koenig said.
The filmmakers traveled to South Africa, Australia, China, Vietnam, and other countries to document individuals’ stories about their ocular conditions, to visit some of the world’s leading eye hospitals, and to learn about some of the pioneering efforts for eye health in science, medicine, and technology. All the while, Ms. Ingrao was fighting stage 4 breast cancer, which she succumbed to in November 2014. Mr. Koenig put the film on hold for a few months and picked it back up in 2015, finishing it with the help of his son Nils Koenig, a Navy reservist with prior experience in the film industry.
The film, which has been honored with three peer-review Telly Awards for documentary, writing, and cinematography, covers everything from the structures of the eye and how it works with the brain to give sight, to various ocular disorders, to the therapies available and coming down the pipeline to help rescue sight. From uncorrected refractive error—the second leading cause of blindness in the world, accounting for $272 billion per year in global productivity loss—to digital eye strain, to corneal diseases, to cataract, macular degeneration, and more, SIGHT aims to give a broad overview of various ocular conditions and what’s being done—and what’s still to be done—to combat them.
“It’s amazing when you look at all the things that can but usually don’t go wrong with the eye,” said Alan Crandall, MD, John A. Moran Presidential Professor and senior vice-chair of ophthalmology and visual sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and an advisor on the SIGHT project.
Though geared toward the lay audience, Dr. Crandall said his ophthalmic colleagues can learn quite a bit from a historical standpoint from the film, and they could use it as a resource for educating their patients or the general public. Films like this can get people interested in their own care, Dr. Crandall added, which is a value to society as a whole.
“Ophthalmology is a true subspecialty but it’s one that everyone is going to need,” he said.
Sumit “Sam” Garg, MD, medical director, Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine, said he thought the film was an “interesting opportunity to discuss a technology that I am involved with, namely, the implantable miniature telescope. I also had an opportunity to discuss age-related macular degeneration and how this technology would fit into treatment paradigms.”
Juan Batlle, MD, professor and chairman of ophthalmology, Elias Santana Hospital/Centro Cristiano de Servicios Médicos, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who was featured in the film, felt the story SIGHT told was one that needed to get out there.
“The reason I did what I did ... is that eyecare should be available to everyone. It doesn’t matter what color skin you have, it doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status, it should not matter how much money you have, it should be a right and something everyone should have access to, and unfortunately, that’s not the way it is. … I think access to healthcare and eyecare is a limited resource for many people,” Dr. Batlle said. “The SIGHT project, the message, is to look at what can be done when there is a will to do something. The examples of Aravind in India, examples from China … this has been a message to everyone that they can break barriers if people have a will and a willingness to do it.”
SEEING, the planetarium component of the project with Neil deGrasse Tyson as the narrator, takes the viewer along the story of a photon’s journey through space to the eye to teach how vision works to create the image interpreted by the brain. This film, with underwriting from Carl Zeiss Meditec (Jena, Germany), is being offered to more than 1,500 planetariums worldwide free of charge. Mr. Koenig said the planetarium film Two Small Pieces of Glass, part of the 400 Years of the Telescope project, was the most played planetary program in history. “We hope the same thing happens with SEEING,” he said.
“When it comes to the
public’s understanding of vision and vision care, our world will be smarter because the SIGHT project explains what the public needs to know about their eyes,” said Dr. Fleishman, who is chair of the SIGHT Advisory Board. “The primary goal of the documentary, associated planetarium film, and the collateral components is to educate and inform people worldwide regarding our most treasured sense—sight. The project says to every human being on earth, ‘Go have your eyes examined.’”
SIGHT can be purchased or rented on Vimeo, iTunes, and Amazon, while SEEING can be viewed at select planetariums. For more information about the documentary SIGHT and the other companion products produced as part of the project, visit storyofsight.com.

Contact information

Batlle
: jbatlle55@gmail.com
Crandall: alan.crandall@hsc.utah.edu
Fleishman: dflash50@comcast.net
Garg: gargs@uci.edu
Koenig: kris@KoenigFilms.com

Award-winning documentary film draws attention to SIGHT Award-winning documentary film draws attention to SIGHT
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