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Blind Runners

A half-marathon to fight blindness

About the project

Recounting a social tragedy in a 26-minute documentary film about an exceptional project. Showing how to fight a national scourge through one country’s passion and pride: running. Trailing and filming the blind and visually impaired who will tell us about their life in the dark. We are going to show how NGOs, doctors, trainers and runners are rallying for the cause (a campaign aimed at curing the blind through eye surgery) by organizing and taking part in a monumental race on the mythical high plateaus of the Gheralta.

The plot

In Ethiopia, almost 2% of the population is blind. That is one of the highest rates in the world; 10 times greater than in France. The blind lead an isolated existence, wholly dependent on their families and communities. Their life is a living hell. They live in remote villages on the high plateaus, hunched over their walking sticks, biding their time and waiting for death to take them.

There are only a hundred or so ophthalmologists in the entire country. Given these grim statistics, there is no hope of tackling the blight of blindness, despite growing assistance from the government and the staunch support of foreign NGOs. Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) is one such NGO. Dr. Matt Oliva has been the project’s representative in Ethiopia for 9 years now. How does HCP help the blind ? Cataract surgery – cataracts are the root cause of 50% of all blindness cases, despite being relatively easy to cure. With the help of local doctors, HCP has already performed thousands of operations.  

Un aveugle dans les rues d'Addis Abeba

This year, it’s Woldiya’s turn. Woldiya is a town in the North of the country. The region is home to 5 million people, and yet there is only one Ophthalmologist: Dr. Alemu.  The situation is dire, especially given that the infrastructure is very rickety.  However, this year, Matt Oliva and Dr. Alemu have teamed up with another Ethiopian doctor to roll out a major cataract surgery campaign.

Matt Oliva has a soft spot for symbolism, and so do Ethiopians. What sets them apart is their passion. They’re passionate about God, of course, but also about running. Everyone – both those who run themselves, but also those who don’t – worship champion runners, the ones who scoop up trophies at major competitions. Halie Gebrselassie is a living legend, as is Abebe Bikila. Matt Oliva is planning to hold a big race, an amazing event that will see many running superstars side by side on the starting blocks. 

Matt Oliva has brought onboard one of his friends – Majka Burhardt. Majka is experienced, well connected and devoted to the cause. She is in change of organizing the event. She oozes passion and enthusiasm. She’s got what it takes to make sure that the donors give generously and that A-list runners to take part – which they do! Scott Jurek, Yemane Tsegay, Gebre Gebremariam – the cream of the crop, some of the best in the world – will take part in a half-marathon on a track that snakes through the ochre mountaintops of the Gheralta. 

Ethiopia is a country that’s getting back on its feet. You can see it everywhere: in Ethiopians’ incredible love of running, in the drive they exhibit as they toil, day in day out, to better their lot. They are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty, of which endemic blindness is but a symbol. 

In Woldiya, operations are being performed at a scorching pace. The doctors each perform 50 operations per day, working from dawn till dusk. Patients are getting their bandages removed. These are moments of amazement and joy that words simply cannot describe. 

Un patient se fait opérer par le Dr Mandefro

The Main Protagonists 

Matt Oliva is an ophthalmologist and corneal surgeon who is deeply passionate about international pro bono work. Matt is a member of the Himalayan Cataract Project’s board (cureblindness.org). He is also a seasoned traveller, having gone all over the world, from Ethiopia to Nepal, to perform and, more importantly, to train others in cataract surgery.

Majka Burhardt has a knack for making unlikely connections. Author, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Majka has spent two decades exploring all corners of the world. She knows Ethiopia particularly well and is the founder of “Accelerate Ethiopia”.

Dr. Alemu is the only ophthalmologist and corneal surgeon in Woldiya. He is committed to helping combat curable blindness in his native land. With the help of HCP, he is trying to organize as many eye surgery campaigns as he can.

Gebregziabher Gebremariam made his marathon debut at the 2010 New York City Marathon, completing the course in 2:08:14 and taking home gold. He ranked third at the Boston Marathon in 2011. Gebregziabher is a bona fide celebrity in Ethiopia. 

The Himalayan Cataract Project works to eradicate preventable and curable blindness through high quality ophthalmic care, education and the establishment of a world-class eye care infrastructure.

What are the funds for?

Previous fundraising and paid expenses

We did some fundraising in 2013 via an other crowfunding online platform. We used the money to travel to Ethiopia for the first time to cover the events described above. Since our return to France, we’ve been working on the documentary alongside our day jobs. We now have a finished script, drafted with the help of production company Blast Production.

Blast Production also lent us all of the equipment (Canon EOS 7D, tripod, sound equipment) and is providing guidance on the creative side of things throughout the production process. 

Blast Production ?

Blast Production specializes in the development and production of short films, documentaries and TV series, as well as corporate film productions. Created in 2011 by four associates with very different backgrounds, Blast Production chooses its projects carefully, prioritizing projects that are strongly engaged both on an artistic and social levels. 

"We work mainly on projects we love, and above all, we want to shoot, direct and move forward. We’re looking for authors who have stories to tell, but also an energy and motivation as big as ours."

Thus the money we collect in this round of fundraising will go towards covering the remaining expenses, as listed below:

First and foremost, the money will be used to pay for a second 2-week trip to Ethiopia. During this trip, we will gather a lot of material, namely interviews and images. 

Breakdown of our anticipated expenses:

The trip: 

2 return plane tickets: $2200

Rental car with driver (as we are not permitted to drive around on our own in Ethiopia): $1125

Fuel: $500

Accommodation: $500

Post-production expenses:

Editing: $1800 (estimate based to the official French wage rate for editors)

Sound mixing: $1000 (estimate based to the official French wage rate for sound mixers)

Color-grading: $2000 (estimate based to the official French wage rate for color-grading experts)

The estimated budget is very tight, covering only the bare essentials. The more we collect, with your support, the better the film will be.

The film’s subject matter lies at the nexus of societal issues, medicine and sport. It is very dear to our hearts. You can rest assured that we will give it our all and go the extra mile to make the film the best it can possibly be.  

We would like to thank you taking the time to read about our firm and look forward to hearing from you.

About the project owner

Both directors are graduates of the Centre de formation des journalistes, a leading French journalism school based in Paris (year of 2013).

Daphnée Breytenbach (CV and Linkedin)

Daphnée is a journalist and film director. She was behind Arte Creative’s documentary short Tombée de rideau (The Fall of the Curtain). Her favorite format is feature length reports, which she has been writing in ever since graduating, notably for the mook XXI. Daphnée also contributes to Vice Magazine and runs a website about all things dance.

“Covering this story, set in Ethiopia, is not something I take lightly. Part of my ancestry is Ethiopian, and it is a country which I know well and which I admire. Blind Runners is therefore a very personal project for. I want to share this story of misery and despair, of hopes pinned on this amazing race, and also to showcase the landscape, which is breathtakingly beautiful.”

Julien Mucchielli (CV ; Twitter ; Linkedin)

Julien is a journalist and regular contributor to a host of publications, chiefly Le Monde, France’s leading daily, and Dalloz-Actualité. While he’s an avid runner himself, his first love is telling stories, whatever the medium may be.

“Ethiopia is brimming with spirituality and history, a land of legends, and therefore endlessly fascinating. Running a half-marathon on the high plateaus together with Ethiopian running legends (by no means hot on their heels, but rather lagging behind) would be an incredible experience.”

Blind Runners is Julien’s first documentary. He has already penned a number of feature-length articles, including in Poland and Turkey