An Irish Film Celebrates Synesthesia

"The Light of My Eyes" brings Ireland into the cross-sensory conversation

Posted Mar 16, 2013

Irish filmmaker Daniel Holmes

Daniel Holmes of Belfast has created a short film on synesthesia.

Filmmaker Daniel Holmes of Belfast  first found out about synesthesia about five years ago while listening to the N.E.R.D. album "Seeing Sounds." "Pharrell Williams had that spoken-word introduction describing his earliest memories of his synesthesia and how the colors bloomed all around him. That image always lingered with me and it even inspired an ill-fated experiment to recreate it in an early short film. A few years later I was watching Krysztof Kieslowski's 'Three Colors: Blue' and was reminded of the condition as Juliette Binoche's character seems to experience flashes of blue whenever she hears a particular piece of music. It's never explicitly stated whether or not the character has synesthesia but these moments were powerful and they awakened the potential of all that synesthesia has to offer to the medium of film (and vice versa)." 

At first, he was attracted to synesthesia for the spectacle it provides and the idea that it exists only in this private, secret world that most of us don't have access to. "What it all comes down to is that cinema is a combination of sound and image that takes its viewers to places they can't necessarily go to in their own lives. It's the perfect vehicle to make viewers aware of other ways of experiencing the world outside of their own, especially for something like synesthesia. There's that saying 'talking about music is like dancing about architecture' and I feel the same applies to synesthesia. You can read books about it, you can look at Kandinsky's paintings, you can listen to a variety of syn-inspired music, but film is the only medium with the necessary tools to even remotely grasp the experience of it. I've always been drawn to characters (both real and fictional) who see things that no one else does and I think synesthesia is the perfect crystallization of this idea." He is attempting to raise funds for the project through Kickstarter, here: 

Lalor Roddy

Ireland's Lalor Roddy stars in "The Light of My Eyes."

The film stars top Irish actor Lalor Roddy. "Mr. Roddy does not experience synesthesia himself," explains Mr. Holmes, "but he's definitely someone who's able to see the magic in things that others have missed. It's that particular quality of his that makes him so perfect for this role."A clip of Mr. Roddy's work can be seen here: 

"My hope for the film is that it helps its viewers to open their own eyes as they are taken on a journey through a previously unexplored world," says Mr. Holmes. "I think a lot of people tend to get used to the mundanity of 'normal' life and forget that it's not the only option the world has to offer. Using a very real phenomenon like synesthesia, I hope that the viewers of my film can each re-evaluate the way they perceive their own worlds by being more aware of the magic that can be found in others."

As Mr. Holmes conducted his research, he became very interested in the personal effects that a synesthete’s built-in kaleidoscopic world would have on them. "On a character level, there is a lot to explore in the relationship between a synesthete's lush internal world and their external interactions. While many embrace the condition as a gift that they couldn’t imagine life without, an equal amount consider it a curse and try to detach themselves from it as a result...Though each of us sees the world in our own way to varying extents, synesthesia truly operates on an unparalleled level of singularity as no two synesthetes share the same sound-to-color associations. There is an amazing opportunity to apply this in a cinematic setting in order to achieve transcendent moments shared between viewer and character by visually adopting the synesthetic perspective."

The majority of people in Ireland he's talked with about synesthesia either weren't aware of it beforehand or have the common misconception that its some kind of disease.  "That's fine by me," Mr. Holmes says, "as I consider the ideal viewer of this film to be someone who goes into it knowing nothing of the condition and walks out enchanted by this new way of seeing the world that they've just been given access to.

"My major incentive with this film is to use synesthesia as a vehicle to take viewers into a completely new and previously unexplored world. In doing so, I hope to create the impression that their own worlds are far richer than they often seem to realize."

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