The making of Unseeing, a documentary that brings alive India's 1st inclusive expedition to Kilimanjaro
A 6000-metre climb through five extreme climate zones in seven days. Sounds impossible? Well, that is exactly what a team of 13 blind and sighted climbers have achieved.
Their epic journey is the subject of Unseeing, a documentary which brings alive the first inclusive expedition from India and the stories of the first blind climbers to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Climbing the Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free standing mountain, known for extreme altitudes and varying temperatures, is not for the faint hearted.
Documenting the trip is quite another challenge altogether, and not uppermost on expedition leader Anusha Subramaniam’s mind when she suggested the climb to Divyanshu Ganatra, founder of Adventure Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF).
Ganatra, who lost his vision at the age of 19 to glaucoma, is widely credited with using sports as a medium to bring people with and without disabilities together. From inclusive treks to marathons, ABBF has organised multiple expeditions. These are filmed and posted on their YouTube page.
The reason everything is filmed is to document them. Many of these trips are done in remote locations and many don’t get to actually witness it. When you put it on film it creates more awareness in the disability fraternity and adventure sports enthusiasts. They reach out to us. The idea is to create an eco-system and encourage people to do this on their own. – Divyanshu Ganatra, Founder, Adventure Beyond Barriers Foundation
Subramaniam, who is a sighted ally of ABBF, planned the trip as part of a cause for the ‘Inclusion of persons with disability in the outdoors’. A chance conversation with filmmaker Omkar Potdar, helped crystalize plans to film the trip.
“Omkar got excited about filming it if there were blind people as well”, says Subramaniam. “I told him that blind people can be taken only if we get a sponsor and he said we can try and do that. So I decided let’s just do this with blind and sighted people and truly make it inclusive.”
For Potdar, the challenging terrain was not the concern. What he was unsure about was how the visually impaired team members would perform. Doubts that were dispelled when he met Divyanshu and fellow climber Prasad Gurav, who is also blind.
“I clearly remember the day I first met Divyanshu and Prasad,” recalls Potdar. “End of that day when I was on my way back home, I had a big smile on my face and I told myself, ‘You have your film. I think we have just the right people for this climb.’ Divyanshu, Prasad and Uri Basha (Israeli climber) are the not just the stars of the film but "Champions" in every sense of the word.”
Potdar called old colleague and friend Sehran Mohsin to join him in filming and together they vowed “to show the world the big misconception people have about persons with disability.”
For Potdar and Mohsin, it was a challenge at every step. While the trekkers were focused on the summit, the filmmakers had to do that as well as ensure they got footage that captured the scenery, the treacherous terrain as well as the moments of laughter and bonding.
“Since there is no source of electricity, we had to carry solar chargers to charge our camera batteries and sound equipment,” says Potdar. “Carrying the solar panels on your back through the day while walking and filming at the same time was definitely challenging. We used to literally take turns to go out of the tent in the freezing cold and put our cameras out for a night time-lapse of the stars.”
They carried their laptops to the top of Kilimanjaro so they could transfer the footage they shot everyday given the limited cards they had for storage. But their solar panels did not have a plug to charge laptops so every night they would pray a thousand times before switching on the computer.
“There used to be a moment of suspense before we switched on our computer, fingers crossed hoping it switches on,” recalls Potdar. “Luckily, it never betrayed us and everything went smooth.”
It’s truly a labour of love and commitment for everyone who was part of the expedition.
“We needed it to be subtle and yet a strong message through visuals that talks of Inclusion,” says Subramaniam.
“Sadly, people are not getting the point of inclusion. They are focused on the fact that ‘wow the blind climbed with you,’ ‘Oh you took the blind with you’ and I have to explain, - I did not take the blind with me. We climbed together. I want to break this mindset that persons with disability are incapable. This climb is to send out a strong message that all of us are part of the same society and we can co-exist together and play and grow together beautifully. “
Unseeing will release on 1 November. To watch the trailer that has everyone riveted
Watch in Sign Language
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