A cinematic experience – for the visually impaired

Each individual, regardless of physical limitations, can contribute uniquely and substantially to our collective experiences.

Cinemas, predominantly visual spaces, seem an unlikely venue for the visually impaired. However, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2 has fundamentally challenged this notion in our country by actively involving people with visual impairments in various aspects of the film’s production. This initiative underscores a powerful narrative of inclusion, demonstrating that, with a bit of will and thoughtful consideration, accessibility can be integrated across diverse domains.

Noel Farrugia, from the Visual Non-Visual Network, revealed how the film’s production team contacted him to discuss transforming Wied il-Miżieb in Mellieħa into a historically accurate Roman setting. This location, unaltered for over two millennia, served as the perfect backdrop to transport audiences back to the era of Christ. The production team’s ambitious vision included erecting a temporary Roman-style archway, necessitating the collaboration of the local community and area farmers, including a blind farmer whose land was crucial for housing 200 horses during the shoot.

Recognising an opportunity to create an unforgettable experience for the visually impaired, the NGO facilitated visits to the film set, allowing them to observe and engage with the production processes typically hidden behind the scenes. For the visually impaired, these experiences held a special significance, providing a deeper, more textured understanding of an art form largely defined by its visual elements.

The environmental management of the project was meticulously planned. The operation involved 100 trucks, 550 crew members, and extensive filming equipment. After the production concluded, the site was restored to its pristine original condition, but the profound social impact of the project left a lasting imprint on everyone involved.

In a gesture of deep appreciation and recognition, the production team organised a special tour of Fort Ricasoli for the farmers, including those who are blind, offering them an immersive experience into ancient Rome. This initiative was not just a nod to their contribution but also delivered a unique sensory journey that transcended visual boundaries.

Additionally, the blind farmers showcased their agricultural prowess by producing “il-pannettunin Malti, a sweet cake made from locally grown stevia, a sugar substitute. This special treat was shared with the film crew, including the celebrated actor Denzel Washington. Beyond their culinary contributions, these farmers engage in topiary — the intricate art of sculpting live plants into ornate designs—a testament to their patience and skill, which was recently lauded by Yu Dunhai, the Ambassador of China to Malta, during his visit to their farm.

Noel Farrugia articulated the ongoing challenges faced by visually impaired individuals in securing meaningful employment. Through this film project, a strong message resonates: inclusivity not only enriches creativity but also ensures that each individual, regardless of physical limitations, can contribute uniquely and substantially to our collective experiences.

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