Q&A with film maker and parent Hannah Lake for World Sight Day
Hannah, thank you for answering our questions so that we and other parents can find out more about the film you are releasing for World Sight Day. We’d love to hear a brief introduction about you and how you find yourself to be a part of the VI Community?
First and foremost, I am Leo’s Mum.
Leo is 11 and has Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis due to a fault in the CEP290 gene. He’s also clever, funny and brave (not in a ‘poor little blind kiddo’ way but in a roller coaster riding, go into new things confidently, way).
In 2015 I decided to go back to university to study for a degree in Film and Television. I graduated with a First Class Honours and went straight on to get a Masters in Film Production.
We live in Hampshire.
Can you tell us about the film that you are releasing for World Sight Day?
The film is called Vision without Sight and it’s a short documentary I made about Leo meeting blind ex-politician, Lord David Blunkett.
I had an idea about introducing a child to an adult with similar life experiences, in this case growing up with a vision impairment. My aim was to make a film that made people think differently about blindness and for the characters to learn something from each other. When such a large part of your identity is so rare to find in others, is there a natural bond formed on meeting? I felt that David, as a successful, fiercely independent, blind adult would not only have much to offer Leo but also to the people watching the film. People not in the VI community naturally have a lot of sympathy for someone with the disability but I wanted to show just how much a child could achieve if given the right support and accessibility, particularly in education.
I also have a keen interest in social sciences having originally gone to university to study international development, politics and human rights law, so for me, meeting David was very insightful. He is a lovely man, with a real passion for education and equality.
I hope that by releasing Vision without Sight on World Sight Day, those that watch it learn something. Vision impaired and blind people don’t need sympathy, they just need understanding and to be treated like anyone else.
Do all of your shorts carry a theme of blindness in them or touch on disability?
I have made five short films, three have included vision impairment as a theme (write about what you know, right?) and for the others I ensured to open the casting to people with disabilities. I believe this is an incredibly important point. People in the media industries tend to underestimate people with disabilities when the truth is, they are as capable as the next person in so many ways. Our kids need to see people in the media that look like them or have similar life experiences as them.
How do you think your life experiences have affected your creativity and the messages, information and ideology that are in your films?
Leo’s diagnosis was life changing in many ways, I had never even spoken to a blind person up until that point! His positive outlook and confidence, as well as all the wonderful people I have met in the VI community, have opened my mind to all the beautiful varieties of humans out there. The films I make tend to have a social or political drive and I believe the only way to be truly creative is to make films about the things that matter to me. My intention is to raise awareness and to ask people to question what it is they thought they knew about a certain subject, i.e. disability or social injustice.
Are you happy to tell us a little bit more about Leo and the current changes he is undergoing in his life at the moment?
Leo has recently started secondary school and we made the decision that he would attend a residential school for the blind. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Very few parents would choose to have their eleven year old sleep somewhere other than at home all week. He attended a wonderful mainstream primary school with a VI resource base here in Hampshire and his time there was really positive. However, socially he really struggled and had very few friendships. Over the years my opinion on mainstream vs SEN school has changed and I now know that it really is dependent on the child as an individual. Some things may work wonderfully for one child and not for another. He really benefits from small groups and less chaotic environments, so mainstream secondary was not really an option.
He is thriving at his new school. It has only been a few weeks and I am not naive enough to think it will all be rainbows and smiles, I know there will be wobbles. I am incredibly proud of his resilience. I, however am still in a state of grief. Ultimately though, I feel good about the decision and know that it is the best option for his future.
Finally, what is your very best piece of advice you would give to a parent who is raising a blind child?
Allow them to explore and be free, try not to panic when they want to go in the soft play without you!
Also, know that your decisions about school do not need to be permanent, things change, your child will change. Be confident that you are the very best person to advocate for your child, no one knows them like you do. Know that there will be “fights”, be it education, health or something else. You can handle it.