New documentary spotlights Miami’s historic program for the blind and visually impaired

This year’s Miami Film Festival screened three-time Academy Award nominee Deborah Dickson’s “Stories From The Lighthouse,” a look into the program for Miami’s visually impaired community at the Regal theater in Miami Beach.

Established in the 1930s, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind is one of Florida’s oldest non-profit social service agencies. It focuses on helping the blind and visually impaired overcome barriers within education and the workforce, while offering vision screenings and being the leaders in offering information about accessibility within businesses and schools.

The documentary follows three members of the Miami Lighthouse community,  highlighting  the transition program for teens, in which classes and a variety of activities help equip the young Lighthouse members with the skills they need to gain independence.

“The world we live in hasn’t been designed for people with disabilities,” said Emily, a member of the transition program who offers viewers a glimpse into the journey leading to her high school graduation, and the steps she took to reach her goals afterward. 

The teens learn to cook, groom themselves, and advocate for their best interests so they can confidently take on the world as well adjusted as possible.

Dickson recalled going to a gala shortly after scouting the Lighthouse for potential participants and watching alum Joey Chica delivering a talk. 

“I thought Joey represented what the younger students were aiming for in a way,” she said during a question and answer session after the film’s screening.

Chica and his two brothers, who are also visually impaired, worked toward their own independence by finding success within education and the workforce –  exactly what the transition programs strives to achieve for its students.

Filming for the documentary began in 2018 and lasted through 2019, with the intended wrap up scheduled in March 2020. Due to COVID-19 shutdowns,  Dickson was unable to travel back to Miami. Her former student took over filming for the period to capture how the program was able to adapt and reopen for its students during those uncertain times.

“Those scenes turned out to be really important and amazing scenes,” Said Dickson. 

Filming officially wrapped in 2021.Though it was not the intention for filming to last that long, Dickson believes it ultimately helped the film’s narrative. 

The start of the film’s shoot included the other programs the Lighthouse had to offer for younger students but Dickson said she believed the participants in the transition program would be most compelling as they would be able to express their own thoughts and feelings during interviews rather than just parents and teachers.

Dickson’s documentary style relies on standing back and observing, what she calls directing by not directing. It led to candid moments of struggle, joy and triumph with the participants that got both laughs and tears out of the audience.

“That’s what happens when you allow your story and participants unroll in front of you,” said Dickson. 

She hopes for distribution within broadcast in order to grant the film the largest reach possible for these stories.

Hennessy Sepulveda is an FIU student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree
in Digital Journalism. She obtained an associates in arts in Mass Communications/Journalism
from Miami Dade College. She has also worked as a contributing writer for PantherNow.