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When I Walk: Sundance Review

When I Walk

The Bottom Line

Skilled direction and an indomitable spirit make a filmmaker’s personal journey with multiple sclerosis inspiring without being maudlin.

Venue

Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres)

Director

Jason DaSilva

The documentary centers on filmmaker Jason DaSilva's personal journey with multiple sclerosis.

PARK CITY -- It’s hard not to be moved when the strapping 25-year-old filmmaker Jason DaSilva goes down — literally — on the beach during a family vacation. He had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis the year before, but until he fell and couldn’t get up, it wasn’t a reality for him. When I Walk is the film he made chronicling his steady decline. The arc and uplift of the story might be familiar, but thanks to DaSilva’s magnetism and skillful direction, this is way more than a conventional weeper. For an audience willing to go there, perhaps on PBS or a niche cable network, it’s a satisfying and worthwhile journey.

Before being stricken, DaSilva had directed short documentaries all around the world and had lived something of a charmed life as the son of a seemingly well-to-do family of Indian descent. In order to keep himself going and keep his mind off the inevitable consequences of his illness, he decided to do what he always did -- make a film. The cruel twist of fate that befalls him is by no means a happy story and to his credit, he doesn’t sugarcoat it, but his triumphs and failures are universal. As his no-nonsense mother is fast to remind him, we are all only here for a very short time and must do the best we can. Learning to do that with an unbreakable spirit is DaSilva's victory and the strength of the film.

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To keep things lively and not turn morbid, DaSilva came up with a number of clever visual strategies. Playful black-and-white animation, which he uses throughout, dramatizes the war white blood cells are fighting in his body, devouring his once-healthy nerve endings. At first he’s in denial, thinking that a vigorous exercise regimen will buy him time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t, and before long walking becomes an ordeal leading to new challenges. When he gets a scooter to move around the East Village, where he lives before moving to Brooklyn, he adapts and films scurrying low angle shots from that perspective.

Hoping to find some answers, both physical and spiritual, he goes to India and seeks out yoga and meditation instruction. But it doesn’t help. He struggles to dress himself, and his vision becomes blurred. His favorite grandmother finances a trip to Lourdes, but a miracle does not happen, at least not the way he expected.

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As things get worse, his ever-realistic mother tells him that we are all ultimately alone in life, and DaSilva despairs that he will end his days like that. And then he meets Alice Cook, who gradually becomes his soulmate. In one of the film’s most moving scenes, they exchange vows in a small ceremony in a city park and put a "Just Married" sign on his scooter. It’s that kind of humor that helps elevate the material.

Alice is a breath of fresh air not only for DaSilva, but for the film as well. Good-natured without being immune to melt-downs, she not only cares for her husband but also picks up some of the filmmaking responsibilities, contributing to the brisk editing and making the project a true partnership.

And then the miracle does happen — Alice becomes pregnant, much to the delight of the parents-to-be. Given the circumstances, it’s a joyous ending. Life goes on, and, as DaSilva so gallantly demonstrates, for that we can all be grateful.

Production Companies: In Face Films
Director: Jason DaSilva
Screenwriter: Jason DaSilva, Alice Cook
Producers: Jason DaSilva, Alice Cook
Executive producers: Stanley Nelson, Yael Melamede, Lydia Dean-Pilcher
Directors of photography: Leigh DaSilva, Karin Hayes, Alice Cook
Music: Jeff Beal
Editor: Jason DaSilva, Alice Cook
No rating, 80 minutes