Filmmaker Keith Maitland Reflects on World Premiere at SXSW

Posted on March 19, 2009

Today is just one day in the three and a half year journey that has been THE EYES OF ME. It’s a day that I haven’t given myself permission to spend too much time thinking about––just one day after its world premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW). THE EYES OF ME is a documentary that follows the lives of four blind teens in Austin, Texas. All four teens in the film had sight, but lost it during their teenage years. The film alternates between verité footage and dreamlike segments of rotoscopic animation in an effort to show the universal high school drama of teenage life while exploring questions of perception and identity. 

The transformative animated segments were created in collaboration with animators Jason Archer and Paul Beck in consultation with the teens; they are their inner-visions of the outer world. Throughout SXSW, in panels and cocktail party conversations, much of the focus has been on building audiences and thinking of new models of distribution. Audience building is something that my producing partner Patrick Floyd and I have been really excited about. With a film like THE EYES OF ME, there is a fairly obvious and large niche audience––but the challenge is in connecting with them. 

With all the talk of new models and hybrid distribution deals, I’ve come to believe that a national broadcast on PBS is still the number one way to connect on a large scale with an audience that should see this film. Last night is still a little hazy (especially the end of the night, which found us celebrating on a pontoon boat in Lake Austin at 3:00 AM, but that’s for a different blog). I can't begin to describe what it felt like to have the 250-seat theater sell out and turn away more than 150 people still waiting in line. 

I thought I’d be thrilled to send so many folks away––a real mark of success. But in the moment, it was really quite sad. So many people wanted to attend the world premiere and they just couldn’t. I gave up my seat so that one extra person could see it and it felt great. Today has been an amazing day. Like I said, I never really allowed myself to think about what it would feel like to get to this moment. There were times when I thought it would never come. I’m sure the good folks at ITVS shared that concern from time to time too. But it’s certainly not the last great day that THE EYES OF ME will give back to me. 

I don’t plan on sitting around thinking about it, but today for five minutes I did imagine a day sometime in the future, a day like today but a whole lot bigger––that would be the day when THE EYES OF ME airs on PBS. That will be the day when nobody will be turned away at the door. Wow. We’re going to need a bigger pontoon boat! 

- Keith


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