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Insight : Instructional Movie Series Enlightens the Outlook of the Blind

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His friends say that Kim Schneider has the best job in Hollywood: He makes movies for blind people.

“The first thing they tell me is, ‘Well, I guess you can’t do anything wrong,’ ” says Schneider, a film director and editor, “ ‘because they’ll never see it if you mess up.’ ”

Schneider has wrapped up work on a series of five instructional films that show people who have recently lost their vision that they do not have to also lose their mobility.

Blind actors were used in the films, which are described as the nation’s first blind-oriented video series. The films were transferred to videotape and shipped Wednesday to several thousand video rental shops across the country, where they can be checked out without charge.

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The actors provide demonstrations and tell how they have regained their independence and self-confidence. Celebrities such as Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier and Richard Dreyfuss are among the narrators.

“It’s edited well,” said performer Joy Cardinet of Reseda, who lost her sight 4 1/2 years ago because of diabetes and was filmed using a white cane to cross the busy intersection of Beverly and Larchmont boulevards. “They didn’t show me walking into the pole.”

The blind actors were even invited to a gala studio premiere for the films, dubbed the “Insight Series.” They brought friends, family members and guide dogs.

“One totally blind lady asked me to point her exactly where the screen was,” said Dick Ridgeway, co-owner of Corporate Productions Inc. and producer of the series. “She wanted to sit directly facing it.”

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The premiere was very emotional, according to performer Vivian Gray of Burbank. In the film, Gray describes how she overcame her reluctance and began using a guide dog after she lost her sight to retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease.

“I sat there holding my grandson during the screening. All the way through it I kept saying, ‘That’s right! That’s right!’ The film really opens your eyes to what’s available to blind people. This will give encouragement to newly blind people.”

The film series was commissioned by the Los Angeles-based Braille Institute. The films urge blind people or their families to call a toll-free number--1-800-BRAILLE--to learn the location of the nearest services for blind people.

Officials said 50 volunteers have been recruited to answer phones and refer callers to various agencies and centers across the country.

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The series is important because many newly blind people live in communities that lack training facilities for the visually handicapped, said Robert Perrone, the Braille Institute’s assistant training director.

And contrary to what many may think, blind people enjoy television and movies just like everyone else, Perrone said. They listen to dialogue and sound effects and to friends’ descriptions of action on the screen.

Gray said she has attended movies with her guide dog, Nick--although she says the friendly Labrador dozed on the theater floor during a film she particularly liked, “Steel Magnolias.”

“People are surprised when you walk into the theater,” Gray said. “Nobody says anything, but you can sense it when you walk through the lobby.”

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Series actor David Assurian said he tries to take in a movie at least once a month. “I enjoy it like everybody else,” said the Reseda man, who was blinded in a car accident two years ago.

Assurian was filmed dancing at the Beverly Hills Hotel. He said he showed a copy of his episode “to all my friends and relatives” and stashed it away to screen later for his fiancee--his childhood sweetheart who is in Europe.

The $600,000 series has been underwritten by 16 foundations and companies. Braille Institute communications director Sally Jameson said donors were not scared away because the most important audience may never actually see the films.

Jameson said: “They shared our vision.”

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