Climbing Blind (2019) *** BBC iPlayer

May 21st, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Wri/Dir: Alistair Lee | Doc UK 70′

Climbing Blind is essentially a film about scaling impossible heights, physically and metaphorically. It follows the awesome bid by blind Englishman Jesse Dufton to climb the stratospheric Old Man of Foy, one of Britain’s tallest and most awkward sea stacks, a tower of rocky sandstone that soars 137 metres above the Orkney Archipelago in Scotland. Although Jesse is blind, he was ably assisted in this endeavour by his life partner and human ‘guide dog’ Molly.

Climbing Blind is the second feature length documentary from Alastair Lee who won the Grand Prize at the 2019 Kendal Mountain Festival for this impressive exploration of human courage. Lee has made something of a career out of his climbing documentaries both for TV and on the big screen. Working as his own DoP and producer, he is adamant to point out that as the filmmaker his input is merely observational –  he does not get involved in the ascent itself. Lee’s first two film projects focused on mountaineer Leo Houlding and his climbing adventures: The Asgard Project (2009) sees him attempting to scale Mt Asgard, deep in the Arctic, and Lee’s 2014 mid length doc The Last Great Climb follows the Houlding’s adventures scaling Ulvetanna Peak in Antartica.

Here for the first time, Lee works with a visually challenged climber. Jesse states that his main drawback in scaling The Old Man, is not being able to plan, ironically, rather than not being able to see. Detailing the ascent of this vertical sandstone rock pillar, the film reveals how the impressively sanguine and down to earth Jesse leads the climb, assisted by his sight-partner Molly, who follows with verbal encouragement, a rope length below.

But what starts as a film about climbing slowly develops into something much more meaningful to n0n-climbers: the challenge of simply living life as a blind person. “Crossing the road is far more dangerous than climbing” claims Jesse, whose daily hurdles include buttering his own toast and getting the honey in the right place, something that most of us wouldn’t even think about. “Climbing is where I’m in control” he states. His parents also make an appearance describing the early years of Jesse’s life, after discovering their son was suffering from a rare eye disorder that would only deteriorate.

Climbing Blind shows the indomitable power of human mind to defeat seemingly impossible impediments, against all odds. Lee’s impressive camerawork pictures the stunning seascapes of the Scottish Coast and its rugged and inhospitable terrain. Jesse Dufton states categorically: “I’m not disabled; I’m blind and able”. MT

ON BBC iPlayer

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