The Blind Sea – Interview with the director Daniel Fenech

The Blind Sea – Interview with the director Daniel Fenech
Image: THE BLIND SEA film still

Matt Formston is an Aussie professional Paralympic surfer and former professional para cyclist who lost 95% of his vision at the age of five after being diagnosed with macular dystrophy.

This inspirational documentary takes audiences on a global journey to the United States, Fiji, and Indonesia, as Matt embarks on his biggest challenge to date – surfing the gigantic waves of Nazare in Portugal.

“Honestly the waves in Nazare are like avalanches and when you’re standing on the headland, and they crash you can feel the vibrations through your body!” enthused director Daniel Fenech who is also credited as the writer, co-producer, and editor of the project.

Daniel and Matt have been friends for many years and when it was suggested that Matt should do a documentary on his life story he finally agreed. They took a punt and trusted each other.

Nazaré, Leiria. Portugal. Tuesday November 29 2022. Matt Formston (AUS) – Blind Surfer towed into the wave of his life. Photo: joliphotos

“Matt has always had to adapt in his professional and sporting career, and private life. This big wave journey just seemed to be the perfect metaphor on how we watched Matt build his capability.”

The surf filming locations were originally along the Eastern coast of Australia, but when the big waves didn’t materialize by the end of the surf season Daniel called Matt and asked, “What do you think of Nasare in Portugal?” Matt agreed. Ironically this is the safest big wave spot in the world.

When asked to describe Matt, Daniel was quick to respond. “He’s like you see in the film – he doesn’t sit still. He’s very ambitious and he’s an achiever. He’s proactive in helping others out. He’s like this electric energy freight train, and you just want to get on board.”

Daniel Fench. Image: THE BLIND SEA website

Daniel said it was so easy to forget that Matt is blind, especially while watching him surf the fierce avalanche of waves in Nazare. “Once he was on a wave, he just unleashed all this energy, and he was well and truly in his element.”

There are always difficulties and dangers filming in the surf but these escalated owing to Matt’s visual impairment. “We had to be strategic with how we organized our coverage. While Matt was on the wave, we couldn’t have anybody around him, they’d have to be on the shoulder of the wave for support. Waves were huge travelling at 60-70 km per hour and the danger was also being swept up on the rocks.”

Matt couldn’t see the waves and was towed in with jet skis. He wouldn’t have  known when to let go of the rope to drop into the waves, so a basic safety system was devised – the whistle system. Blowing the whistle alerted him to let go of the rope and a second whistle when he was at the bottom of the wave indicated to kick out. There was always a safety crew of four professionals on jet skis keeping an eye on him.

The message the story of Matt Formston delivers to audiences is clear. Matt was told from an early age that he’d never be able to play sports. They said ‘you can’t do that because you’re disabled’ – but he could and excelled.

“We want parents and carers of children with disabilities, and naturally people living with disabilities to be empowered and inspired by the positive role model in this documentary.”

Daniel is honoured that his documentary has been chosen to screen at the Sydney Film Festival (SFF). “I’m an Indie filmmaker from Southwestern Sydney and when I was growing up the SFF was the pinnacle of achievement, so having my debut feature film screened here is a totally bucket list thing for me personally. This is extremely exciting and humbling that people like our story.”

June 5-16

Screening at the Sydney Film Festival.

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