Blindness to Open Cannes

April 30, 2008

Forget Indiana Jones and the Legend of the Crystal Skull and The Dark Knight. The cinematic event of the year is Fernando Meirelles’ adaptation of Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness. Check out the trailer.

The film, which has just been announced as the opening night gala screening at Cannes this year, is notable not only because it’s a visionary director’s attempt to film a heartbreaking, visually challenging book. It’s also notable because it’s got Canada stamped all over it.

Not only is Blindness‘ cast packed with some of the country’s most accomplished talent (including Sandra Oh, Maury Chaykin, and Martha Burns), its producer, Niv Fichman of Rhombus Media and writer, Don McKellar of, well, everything, were the driving force behind the project. Attending a film festival in Buenos Aires together almost ten years ago for McKellar’s fantastic apocalyptic Last Night, Fichman initially poo-pooed the idea of adapting Saramago’s novel.

After he’d read it, however, all of that changed, and the two men started bombarding the Portugese novelist with solicitations. Finally, in 1999, Saramago (who had turned down Meirelles when he approached him on his own) caved and invited the Canadians to his house in the Canary Islands. On the second day of their visit, Saramago offered Fichman and McKellar the rights, saying he wanted absolutely no control over the film.

“I always resisted (giving up rights to the Blindness),” Saramago told the New York Times Magazine in 2007, “because it’s a violent book about social degradation, rape, and I didn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands.”

Those right hands were Canadian hands (though said article never mentions Fichman or McKellar by name), the hands of a team of people who have been fighting to get Blindnessmade for the last seven years. They have put together the very model of an international co-production (Rhombus worked alongside Japan’s Bee Vine Pictures and Brazil’s 02 Filmes), the type of project can will hopefully show other Canadians the way forward.

It’s a great story of nerve, persistence, and global thinking in the Canadian arts world. Refreshing indeed.

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