Real eye-opener

SBS’s new se­ries isn’t like other so­cial ex­per­i­ments. By AMELIA SAW and CLARE RIGDEN

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - FRONT PAGE -

RAY Martin was scep­ti­cal about Look Me in the Eye, which uses the coun­selling tech­nique of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion to re­con­nect es­tranged peo­ple.

It is a fair call. Af­ter all, “so­cial ex­per­i­ment” is the buzz word in re­al­ity-TV cir­cles and has been used to jus­tify ex­ploita­tive “cou­ples in cri­sis” shows in­clud­ing Mar­ried at First Sight, The Seven Year Switch and The Last Re­sort.

But Martin in­sists Look Me in the Eye is dif­fer­ent.

View­ers are party to what hap­pens when five min­utes of face-to-face eye con­tact – with­out con­ver­sa­tion – is used to heal old wounds.

Will par­tic­i­pants want to speak to one an­other or will it end badly with some­one get­ting up and walk­ing away?

Martin stud­ied psy­chol­ogy dur­ing his univer­sity years but that didn’t mean he was quick to sign on when SBS ap­proached him. “I am very scep­ti­cal of psy­chi­a­trists and psy­chol­o­gists,” the one-time A Cur­rent Af­fair host and Gold Lo­gie win­ner says.

“The good ones are fan­tas­tic and the or­di­nary ones are very or­di­nary. So I wasn’t sure about this so-called so­cial ex­per­i­ment.”

Luck­ily for the pro­duc­ers, Martin is at an in­ter­est­ing stage of his ca­reer.

He was won over by the net­work’s pitch. He had re­cently hosted First Con­tact to ac­claim and was cu­ri­ous to find out more.

“At this stage of my life I am … do­ing what I want to do rather than what I have been told to do,” Martin says. “The im­pact of look­ing into some­one’s eyes – es­pe­cially if they have been through es­trange­ment – is amaz­ing.

“I wouldn’t want to do it my­self and I wouldn’t have liked the con­cept be­fore now but all the peo­ple we spoke to (who took part on the show) had a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The first episode fo­cuses on two sto­ries: Sue, who is des­per­ate to re­con­nect with Gary, her hus­band of 33 years, af­ter a sepa­ra­tion; and Ayik, a for­mer boy sol­dier from Su­dan who comes face to face with his tor­turer.

Later seg­ments in­clude coun­try girl Shel­ley, who con­fronts Mick, the fa­ther who walked away from the fam­ily when she was 10, and sib­lings Tay­lor and Ty­nan, whose re­la­tion­ship fell apart when their par­ents divorced.

Martin in­ter­views the par­tic­i­pants be­fore and af­ter the at­tempt at re­con­nec­tion.

“It was one of the most emo­tional things I’ve ever done,” he says. “We had to en­gage them and get their trust. It helps if you are an old shoe like I am and they know who I am.”

Psy­chol­o­gists were on hand to help those who have se­ri­ous is­sues to work through. Martin says that gave him a new ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this form of coun­selling.

“For the two Su­danese guys, we had se­cu­rity there (as well) if they did, in fact, de­cide to go for each other’s throats,” he says.

“I se­ri­ously thought that they could turn vi­o­lent.

“We dropped one of the sto­ries, of a cou­ple who came to­gether, be­cause we thought it could have ram­i­fi­ca­tions later, and it wasn’t worth the risk in­volved.

“It was prob­a­bly our sec­ond-best (story) but I’m glad SBS had that sense of a duty of care. In any­one else’s hands it might have been a dif­fer­ent story.”

Worth a look: Look MeintheEye host Ray Martin with Sue and Gary, who sep­a­rated af­ter 33 years of mar­riage.

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