The D Word: Sundance Film Review

The D Word: Sundance Film Still - H 2012
An illuminating examination of dyslexia, a misunderstood “disability.”

From Robert Redford's son James, the film is an illuminating exploration into dyslexia.

PARK CITY -- Why should otherwise intelligent children have trouble reading? In this illuminating documentary, dyslexia, “the hidden disability,” is made visible.

Directed with skill and intelligence by James Redford, it played to a receptive audience here at the Sundance Film Festival.

As most of us think, dyslexia is not just seeing words in reverse. Filmmaker Redford creates a well-conceived learning lesson in this HBO Documentary Films presentation. He centers on an intelligent teen, Dylan, who tells about his reading struggles in school and the barriers he had to overcome. Often, it is with the teachers who fail to grasp the disability and relegate such students to secondary status.

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Indeed, performance anxiety is most often the troubling side-effect: A number of students (some now adults) relate their painful experiences in school, and how they coped with dyslexia, often without knowing they had it.

Interlacing commentary from two Yale professors who are leading experts on dyslexia, Redford deftly medical facts with personal stories. Most remarkably, The D Word shows how the disability itself has been a “blessing” for many. Often, dyslexics are very creative, think outside-the-box and are successful because of the rigor they have applied to adapting to their “disability.” That rigorous self-preservation morphs into a ability to succeed in life, they distill the essence of things and transpose them to the real world.

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The D Word resonates with a subtext that challenges the notion of traditional learning, namely, where students are generally judged by their ability to read fast and take time-limit tests. We see how artificial these methods of assessing accomplishment and learning are.

Laced with a series of interviews with the likes of such ultra-successful dyslexics as Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and the lieutenant governor of California, Gavin Newsom, this engagingly informative film is a model of how to teach.

Well-paced and lightly charged with spry aesthetics, namely editor Jen Bradwell's apt punctuation and composer Todd Boekelheide's diffident and invigorating music, The D Word is well-made. A special boost comes from the playful and perky animation. Credit animators Petra Myrzk and Jean-Francois Moriceau for an apt dosage of vitality to a difficult subject.

The D Word gets an A-grade; it's an exemplary example of educational documentary filmmaking.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Documentary Premieres
Production companies: HBO Documentary Films
Director: James Redford
Screenwriters: James Redford, Jen Bradwell
Producers: James Redford, Windy Borman
Director of photography: John Kiffmeyer
Music: Todd Boekelheide
Editor: Jen Bradwell
No rating,  51 minutes