“I need experiences to feed my feelings”

Suffering from retinitis pigmentosa diagnosed at the age of 16, Alban Tessier learned to tame the blindness that overcame him. Today at 44, teacher, sportsman and technology enthusiast, he recounts his quest for freedom in “As far as my gaze will go”, a documentary directed by Corinne Falhun to discover this Thursday, September 29 on the air and in audio description on france.tv

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Alban Tessier is an accomplished sportsman. Slender forty-something, he has a taste for adventure and challenges. The film dedicated to him by Corinne Falhun could therefore have yielded to the ease of the story celebrating the surpassing of oneself through sport with a lot of bodybuilding music highlighting the feat and slow motions magnifying the effort. But the subject of Corinne Falhun is the sensitive approach of a man who, as blindness progresses, opens up to other sensations and adapts to the handicap. “As far as my gaze will go” tells the story of an apprenticeship. To do without seeing, and to do with all other perceptions.

The director also begins her documentary with a failure. Its setting is the second stage of the Half Marathon des Sables de Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. In this setting of sand, rock and ocean, accompanied by his two guides, Alban Tessier broke down physically in the second stage. To what extent should you try to push your limits? Frustration is an old companion for Alban.

When the diagnosis was made at 16 I understood immediately, I accepted it, but I put it aside ” recounts Alban, “At the time, I could still see quite well, I was doing my schooling in an ordinary environment, I was doing sports, I was living in the present moment.

The arrival of disability was sudden. “I was destined to study architecture but I could no longer read the materials given to me or the painting. There, I took it in the face.” Alban Tessier must then give up the studies he had begun.

The click comes in two stages. At 24, an uncle of his wife Morgana manages to motivate him to participate in a tandem endurance race. “Something happened that day” Alban remembers.

Visual impairment is not an end in itself. The range of possibilities is vast

Later, when he became a braille and computer teacher at the Institut des Hauts Thébaudières in Vertou (Loire-Atlantique), he became close to one of his colleagues, also suffering from retinitis pigmentosa and who was preparing to participate in the Paris-Dakar. “It allowed me to tell myself that visual impairment is not an end in itself. The range of possibilities is vast.”

The possibilities, he will explore them by crossing the largest salt desert in the world, the Salar de Uyuni at an altitude of 4000 meters in Bolivia. Keen on technology, Alban is equipped with a GPS application specially developed for the visually impaired. The experience is very rough, you have to bivouac, walk by pulling the cart containing the tent, the provisions, the necessary for this extreme walk.

video length: 01min 32

Alban Tessier, the visually impaired adventurer recounts his crossing of the Salar de Uyuni

©Alban Tessier / Corinne Falhun / One Day Films

This experience changed me profoundly. I accessed a feeling of freedom through the immensity, there were no landmarks, no smells, no sound except that of my footsteps. This freedom to feel alone in the world invited me to introspect for seven days. Before, I forbade myself from feeling things deeply and there, it unlocked me.

The images that Alban brought back from this trip attest to this feeling of emptiness and immensity and act in the film as a metaphor for the social isolation that awaits those who lose, or have lost their sight. In the editing of the documentary, they rub shoulders with more everyday sequences where, filmed in the streets of Nantes, or Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire where he lives, Alban navigates in a discreet blur. For the director, it is not a question of illustrating Alban’s visual perception, but rather of figuring out the place he must invent for himself in the world around him and in his daily life.

Professional life, family life, sporting hobbies like climbing: feats like crossing the salty desert would be meaningless without the ability to compensate for the loss of vision in everyday life.

“I have a lot more sensations today than when I saw. Visual impairment restricts space, the fact of perceiving volumes differently through hearing, touch, attention to what the body sends back in contact with the wind, heat, all this indicates to me elements of distance, volume, speed of movement of what surrounds me. I feel more in harmony with my environment.”

What will it be tomorrow? Today there is neither treatment nor surgery to hinder the evolution of the retinitis pigmentosa which Alban suffers from. Generic research may help find a solution for future generations. “Blindness may not happen, or on the contrary it may happen very quickly. But what I learned about myself is that I have potential that I can exploit, but that I did not assess.”

A documentary to discover here in audio description

video length: 52min 41

DOCUMENTARY. As far as my gaze will reach

©Films of a Day

“As far as my gaze will go”, a documentary by Corinne Falhun

A Les Films d’un Jour production, with the participation of France 3 Pays de la Loire

Broadcast Thursday, September 29 at 10:50 p.m. in La France en Vrai

Rebroadcasts at 9:05 a.m. Friday September 30 and Thursday October 6, available in audio description until October 30 on france.tv

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