“HOW TO MAKE A PEARL”— Living in the Dark

“How To Make A Pearl”

Living in the Dark

Amos Lassen

For the first 53 years of his life, John Kapellas lived wherever and however he wanted. Then one day he began to burn, blister and break out in rashes whenever his body was exposed to light. Kapellas learned that he is now allergic to the entire spectrum of light and has spent the past ten years living in complete darkness. His medication played tricks on him and the side effects of the drugs made him as if he were crazy and he drew gigantic abstract pictures on his wall and played the piano to as ways to deal with how he felt. The short film, “How to Make a Pearl” looks at how Kapellas copes and we see that the using his past trauma to create.

Even though Kapellas has spent more than 10 years living in literal darkness, he has learned to deal with the limitations of his environment. His social interactions, at most, are sporadic and his world has now the interior of his home yet he is able to find fulfillment and enlightenment there. He seems to have always known some kind of pain—As a child, he witnessed domestic abuse, he is a Vietnam veteran, dealt with a divorce, and lost gay friends and lovers to the HIV/Aids epidemic. Nonetheless, he has discovered the ability to look back at his past with fondness and the future with hope.

Three years ago director Jason Hanasik met Kapellas when his best friend took him to a dimly lit hallway in a grand San Francisco apartment building. At the end of that hall, there was a faint circle of light and as the two men approached, the circle disappeared and everything was pitch-black room. The man controlling the faint circle of light was Kapellas. For ten years now Kapellas has had to live by short bursts of light from a one or two-battery flashlight. Kapellas cannot be in sunlight or moonlight but he also can’t be in the light from his computer, his phone or from lamps. Kapellas’ extreme immune responses can last from hours to days. Doctors have no idea what causes his condition and, while they’ve found medications to alleviate some of his pain, he has no idea if he’ll ever leave his “cave” or his “tomb” as he refers to his home.

Hanasik said that when he reached the projected circle of, he could feel a person’s presence on the other side of it but still couldn’t see them. His eyes had yet to adjust and as he approached, Kapellas grabbed him from the darkness to give him a hug. As their bodies pressed together, Hanasik could see Kapellas eyes and kind smile. Because we don’t know why Kapellas’ body decided to react to light, the film looks at who Kapellas is and how he has come to terms with this part of his life.

Kapellas lives in a San Francisco art studio that has been converted into one enormous dark room, and he relies on an ex-lover and his adult children from a marriage before he ‘came out’, to do errands and bring him food. Every Thursday he throws a dinner party when close friends join him in the dark so that he is not completely cut off from the outside world.  

He possesses a genuine upbeat attitude about his circumstances and gets his enjoyment from his art, playing his piano and his early morning walks all wrapped up before dawn breaks. His enclosed small world is a place of reflection and this seems to provide him now with a great deal of peace.  This is a totally fascinating look at something most of us are totally aware of. If you get the chance to see, make sure you do.

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