Lucy Walkers award ”“winning documentary ”˜Blindsight’ falls into that category of ”˜triumph over adversity’ documentary films. Films that have the ability to shift perceptions, shake foundations and leave audiences quite literally changed by the time the credits have begun to roll. Such cinematic experiences encourage us to see the world differently or in this instance: to imagine what it would be like to not see it at all.
Charting the adventure of six Tibetan teenagers who set out to climb the 23,000 foot Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest, the film is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the teenagers are blind–an affliction which ,in Tibet, is tragically believed to have been wrought by demon possession.
At the films core, is Sabriye Tenberken – a blind educator and adventurer who established the first school for the blind in Lhasa. Inspired by a visit from blind American mountaineer- Erik Weihenmayer, Sabriye and her students agree to join him ,and his team, on a climbing expedition up the Everest surrounds.
Through such a pilgrimage, we are made to re-imagine the imposing Himalayan vistas as experienced by the blind members of the group–a landscape reduced to sound scape of cracking ice and crunching gravel and one tenaciously navigated by the tapping of feet against rocks and boulders. With such empathy comes awe and herein lies the power of Walker’s film.
Tensions however run high when Mountaineer Weihenmayer’s ”˜gung- ho’ bunch of (sighted) American guides come to blows with Tenberken concerns over the safety of her kids and it is at this point that certain ‘summit driven’ ego’s threaten to overthrow the entire ‘ethos’ of the jounrey. The question that comes to the fore is: are the organisers/film makers more concerned about making an award-winning film complete with fulfilling climax? Or one that genuinely sets out to empower the individual participants to reach their highest personal potential? Being a documentary “Blindsight’ occasionally treads this fine and ambiguous line.
Still, by its denouement, director Walker manages to re- adjust her wayward focus (clashing adult ego’s) towards the true heart of the film, which is of course the courageous band of Tibetan kids. With Tenberken’s over-riding philosophy: that life is more about the journey than it is the actual destination, finding a strong and moving resonance by the conclusion.
See it and thank god you can.
The Hunger for Excellence