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Shadow Girl:  A Film by Maria Teresa Larrain    cover photo

Shadow Girl: A Film by Maria Teresa Larrain 2017


Distributed by Women Make Movies, 115 W. 29th Street, Suite 1200,New York, NY, 10001; 212-925-0606
Produced by Storyline Entertainment; Maremoto Productions
Directed by Maria Teresa Larrain
DVD, color, 88 min.

High School - General Adult
Health, Macular Degeneration, Blindness

Date Entered: 10/26/2018

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

It’s hard to imagine anything worse for a filmmaker than losing her sight. Maria Teresa Larrain, the Chilean-born filmmaker who narrates this documentary, learns as a child that she is likely to go blind as a result of hereditary macular degeneration. When told about it by a doctor, her mother assures her it won’t happen, but both she and her mother suffer from this incurable disease and both become blind. In Maria Teresa’s case, her sight goes while she is making her last film, documenting the predicament of members of blind populations in her native country and elsewhere as well as her own experience as she deals with the progressive disease.

One of a large family, Maria Teresa receives both moral and physical support from her siblings, children, and grandchildren, who live in Latin America. A wonderful segment shows a number of the family’s women smoking big Cuban cigars together, laughing and enjoying warm and loving relationships in sharp contrast to focusing on their problems.

Maria Teresa lives in Canada for many years, working as a documentary filmmaker, when her eyesight begins deteriorating. She must learn to use a white cane, which she hates, to walk around Toronto. The cane immediately sets her apart from other people wherever she is, creating an isolating bubble around her. She struggles to retain her independence. She applies for disability benefits while continuing to make Shadow Girl. While waiting to learn the outcome of her application, she returns to Chile. There, she eventually receives a letter denying her benefits because she continued to work after being declared blind. Angered, she contests the decision.

While in Chile, she conducts interviews with street vendors whose permits to work have been revoked by the government. They ignore the regulations and continue to set up their sidewalk offerings, resisting the loss of dignity that would come from being idle. Energized by their determination not to be crushed by unfair legislation, Maria Teresa returns to Toronto to face the final judgment in her case. Fortunately, it approves her argument and provides her with the benefits she desperately needs, and rewards her desire to do whatever work she still can to maintain her self-respect.

In the most moving scenes shown throughout the film, viewers “see” through Maria Teresa’s eyes—the darkness caused by the macular degeneration, the fuzzy images that remain visible, and the loss of her ability to see color. After first refusing cataract surgery, she finally agrees to have it even though it cannot improve her sight, because it allows her to see colors once again. No one who views Shadow Girl can forget what going blind is like. They see some of what this indomitable filmmaker experienced, without letting it conquer her.