The End of Blindness is a short, simple documentary about ophthalmologist Samuel Borah, whose public health work in Sub-Saharan Africa has changed the lives of thousands of blind or near-blind patients in a region where even simple eye surgeries are nearly impossible to obtain. The purpose of the documentary is to share Borah’s story, as well as advertise the Tropical Health Alliance Foundation, with whom Borah has partnered to deliver care to rural communities in Ethiopia. It straddles the line between non-profit infomercial and harrowing operating-room documentary, but the documentarians do a good job exploring Borah’s work and the ongoing health care crisis
Blindness has a gritty medical element that helps it stand out from other promotional documentaries. Besides the statistics of the issue — 1.6% of Ethiopia, for instance, is experiencing some form of eyesight loss — it also goes deep into what it takes for Borah to perform eye surgeries at the scale he practices. At times, he will go into surgery 60 times a day, slicing off the clouded lens of his patient’s eyeball and replacing it with a new one. Director A.J. Martinson doesn’t spare the audience; if you’re squeamish about surgery or eyeballs, definitely look away when the cutting starts.
Of course, looking away is one reason why there are so many health deserts in the world, and the documentary also features the men and women who help finance Borah’s mission. Blindness exists to bring attention to Borah’s work and their success in helping him reach more and more rural communities that lack access to healthcare. His patients give their testimonials — a woman who had never seen her son, an old woman who could no longer work. There are people of every demographic who owe their ability to see to Borah.
The film clocks in at 55 minutes. There isn’t much here beyond the very straightforward accounting from Borah, those he’s helped and how audiences at home can assist if they’re so inclined. The only critique is that Adam Behr’s gravelly narration feels out of place with Martinson’s natural, you’re-really-there approach to Borah’s story. He sounds like a movie-trailer announcer. It is the wrong vibe and adds a strange amount of tension to a film that really isn’t tense at all. The marketing, too, emphasizes Borah’s role as the only ophthalmologist in a region of millions as “one man’s fight to save millions,” which also feels wrong. All the power — and this is a powerful story — comes from Borah’s humble ability to focus on each and every one of his patients, one surgery at a time. Perhaps that doesn’t sound as impressive as a tagline. Despite those nitpicks, this is still a powerful documentary about a doctor driven to do the right thing for people who are often forgotten.