NEW YORK -- At first glance, this documentary by filmmaker Lucy Walker ("Devil's Playground") would seem to be a typical feel-good adventure yarn about lovable young people conquering their disabilities and fears to accomplish something truly notable.
But "Blindsight," about a group of six blind Tibetan children undertaking a potentially treacherous mountain-climbing expedition, proves rather more complex in its themes.
The youngsters are students at a Tibetan school run by German-born Sabriye Tenberken, herself blind since childhood. Not only must they struggle with their visual impairment but also with a culture that considers their disability to be a punishment for sins committed in a past life.
A visit to the school by Ed Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mount Everest, becomes the impetus for a plan for him and his cohorts to lead six teen students on a climb to the top of Lhakpa Ri, a 23,000-foot-high peak not far from Everest.
Dramatic conflict is sparked by the conflicting goals of the adults during the three-week adventure. Tenberken is mainly interested in providing a positive self-image and feelings of mutual support among the young climbers, while Weihenmayer and his fellow leaders are intent on leading their charges to the top of the mountain despite the daunting challenges.
While the gorgeously shot mountain-climbing segments are certainly engrossing, the film's true interest comes from the portraits of its young subjects and their families, and the Tibetan society that seeks to repress them.
Complex and nonjudgmental, "Blindsight" ultimately emerges as much a fascinating sociological study as adventure story. It seems a natural for feature film treatment.