Mead 2017: How Lust for Sight Director Manuel von Stürler Sees the World

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“Manu, how do you see?” asks filmmaker Manuel von Stürler in his documentary Lust for Sight (La fureur de voir), which premieres at the Margaret Mead Film Festival on Sunday, October 22, at 5 pm.

 


“How often have I heard that question?” he goes on to say, explaining that has always viewed the world with a 20-degree absence of perception due to a childhood eye condition. To demonstrate this, he holds a spoon in front of the camera, blocking the center of the frame. To the average viewer, the picture now appears incomplete, but that’s not how von Stürler describes what he sees.

After learning that his eye condition would one day lead to blindness, von Stürler set out to investigate the subjective nature of visual perception in Lust for Sight. He recently spoke with us about what motivated him to document himself, and what he’d like audiences to see, and feel, by watching his film.

What led you to make this film?

Four years ago, I was reading an article about the fact that doctors were capable of giving back visual perceptions to blind people thanks to technology, and I found it fascinating. I [also] found out that it was not easy to have a bionic eye. The learning process is long, and the results do not always live up to our expectations. I naturally re-oriented the story of my project: I wanted to understand why it was this complicated to see, by leading an investigation on what we already know about the visual process… there are still a lot of mysteries, subjectivity, and poetry when we open our eyes.

You explain that you’ve always seen differently than others, beginning at a young age. Can you elaborate?

Being able to explain what we see is a real headache, and I have a little story about it. Two friends of a blind friend of mine describe to her a painting. Each of them describes the obvious elements but they disagree really quickly and fight over the perception of an expression or about the colors. The blind will say, “Oh yes, this painting has an exceptional depth."

I am sure about one thing: since the center of my eye does not work anymore, I have vision like a wide angle [lens] and since I’m missing the details, I am in full possession of the geometrical composition and the lighting effects that I observe. When I show images that I’m shooting, some tell me that I compose my frame in a very good way. 

 

Smiling woman wears vision goggles while another person observes.

Catherine Le Clech, who has a visual impairment, is featured in Lust for Sight.

© Bande à part Films


How has your understanding of sight changed over time—and especially now that you’ve made this movie? 

I have the chance to do this job, which allows me to learn a lot of things with each project. For this one it was particularly intense because it allowed me to understand why, and how, I built myself. I also found answers to my personal questions, but making a movie is first intended for an audience, and I think that this film will broaden their knowledge and remind them that seeing is not just useful, that the handicap is relative, and then revive pleasures from their perception. My God, it is awesome to be able to see!

 

Lust for Site is co-presented by NBC News MACH.

For more information on films and screenings, visit the Margaret Mead Film Festival website.

Learn more about visual perception and how we perceive the world through our senses by checking out the Museum’s new experiential exhibition Our Senses: An Immersive Experience, opening November 20.