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Austin Film Festival 2019: “Second Sight” Short Film Review

“Second Sight” screened at this year’s Austin Film Festival as part of the Documentary Shorts program. The 27-minute film was directed by Cole Sax, and it tells the story of one woman who got life-changing surgery thanks to an organization called SEE International. Watch the trailer below.

The story told in the documentary is that of Joanaly, a 47-year-old wife and mother who lives in Mailum, in the Philippines. She has been blind for two years, and her impairment means that she can’t do as much as she could when she could see. Her husband now does much of the cooking and cleaning in addition to working in the rice fields with their sons, where they each make $3 or $4 a day. But he says that’s what love is to him: It’s putting the needs of those you love first.

Joanaly, of course, is no happier with the situation. “It’s tiring to not be able to do anything,” she says in the film. She eventually tells her husband that she thinks she should get a consultation at the clinic. He’s afraid, but he tells her that they’ll borrow money or do whatever it takes to make it happen. This is where SEE International comes in.

The organization provides eye care and surgery worldwide for no cost. Joanaly learns that she has cataracts, and she is eligible for surgery that may restore her sight. The surgery is performed by Dr. Eric Malubay, an ophthalmologist from the Philippines who has done more than 50,000 surgeries, and Dr. Jeffrey Levenson, an ophthalmologist from the U.S. who began working with SEE International after needing cataract surgery himself. The scene of Joanaly’s surgery does have one (rather large) hiccup, but they make it through and — spoiler alert — she gets her vision back.

“Second Sight” shows what great work the nonprofit is doing, especially for those in developing countries who wouldn’t be able to afford the medical care that can so greatly impact their lives. The happiness between Joanaly and her family is palpable onscreen, with hugs and tears of joy from all. There are facts presented at the end of the film, including the specific statistics of the clinic that Joanaly went to. At that one in Bacolod, which lasted 10 days, they were able to restore sight to 300 patients, with a surgery that only takes about 10 minutes.

There is a current of religion running through the whole short, though not by way of the filmmakers. Instead, we see Joanaly and her family praying together in the river (her favorite place, where it feels like their problems disappear) for her to be able to see again. Dr. Levenson calls the surgery “almost Biblical” when describing what it takes to give someone their vision back. Joanaly’s husband prays before and during her surgery, asking God to guide the doctors — notable because he’s not asking for a miracle; he just wants the surgeons to do their jobs well. And finally, when we see that Joanaly’s vision is restored, Dr. Malubay proclaims that “God gave her a second chance.” It’s an interesting through line for a documentary that is so heavily based in what science can do for people.

This documentary short is beautiful and uplifting, and it will likely make you want to learn more about SEE International, as well as similar organizations, that can help people close to home and far away. You can watch the film for free on their website.

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