Review of Blindsight directed by Lucy Walker
When I first read about this documentary, I thought it was about the story of Eric Weihenmayer, who became the first blind person to scale Mt Everest. If you look at the image used to promote the film, you see a lone individual with arms upraised. But just minutes into the film it becomes apparent that this is not Eric's story at all. This is the story of six blind children from Tibet who embark on a journey with Eric to scale a mountain next to Everest.
The whole thing starts with a letter to Eric from Sabriye Tenberken, who runs a school for the blind in Tibet. Sabriye invites Eric to Tibet to speak with her students about his amazing accomplishment. Eric comes up with the idea of selecting six students to embark on a climb to Lhakpa Ri, a peak near Everest.
Each of the six blind students has their own individual guide to help them scale the mountain. They undergo some minimal training before heading out to the Himalayas. Interspersed with the story of the climb expedition are the individual stories of the six children. This is where the film excels. The problems we deal with daily don't come close to the hardships these children have had.
All of the children stand out in their own way. There's Gynshen (I think this is the right name), who's mother diminishes him and talks about what a relief it was to get rid of him (all while he's standing there listening). There's Tashi, who's story is right out of Slumdog Millionaire. He's taken from his family and forced to beg for a couple who beats him when he doesn't produce. He eventually runs away, but he's blind and unable to do much of anything without assistance. His reunion with his family is one of the more emotional scenes in the movie.
The whole idea behind the film, though, is flawed. Eric grew up in the Rockies. He's a trained climber. He's experienced. Just because he was able to climb Mt. Everest doesn't mean that he can take any blind kid off the street and give them a few days of training and expect them to do the same. The mountain that is his goal is over 23,000 feet high. And they are planning to do this climb without oxygen. Had they chosen a more reasonable goal, I think they would have accomplished more.
Despite what happens on the mountain (no spoiler here), there's no doubt that the six children who undertook this challenge have gained much from the experience and continue to benefit from their participation. The filmmakers give updates on all of the children at the end of the film. Gynshen's story was my favorite. he started his own Braille publishing company and has done well enough that he sends money back to his family. Watching his mother talk about her son with pride says everything about this movie and what it's about.
The DVD had some extras worth watching. You can find out more at www.blindsightthemovie.com.