The US-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has condemned Fernando Meirelle's Cannes opener Blindness as 'harmful' to the blind because it portrays blind people as 'monsters'.

The interest group plans to stage protests at 79 cinemas across the US where the film is screening. The Canada-Brazil-Japan coproduction opens October 3 through Miramax in the US and Alliance Films in Canada. The allied Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB) will picket a cinema in Victoria, British Columbia.

The film, based on the novel by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Jose Saramago, posits a sudden contagion of blindness and the resulting havoc in society. As the NFB describes it: 'Only one woman, played in the film by Julianne Moore, remains able to see, feigning blindness to remain with her husband. She is portrayed as physically, mentally, and morally superior to the others because she still has her sight.'

Speaking to Screen International, Blindness screenwriter and actor Don McKellar responded with disappointment. 'The blind people who admire this story say it shows the fragility of the sighted world. The superficiality of it. And the panic that would shatter that superficiality. It's a critique aimed at the sighted society.'

NFB public relations representative Chris Danielsen said his association has been protesting the film since the production was announced in 2007. 'We tried to request the filmmakers not to make the film or at least to meet with us to discuss our concerns and they refused to respond to any of those requests.' Danielsen, who is blind, pointed to the characters' 'level of incapacity'. 'They are shown not being able to maintain proper hygiene. It's just ridiculous. The danger is that it is going to perceived that's what blindness is really like.'

Said McKellar, 'This is a particular lobby group. They don't represent all blind people. We knew they had objections to the book so they are not necessarily responding to the film [as a film].' He added, 'If we felt that you couldn't feel empathy toward blind people we wouldn't have made the movie.'