Blindsight

"Essential"

Blindsight Review


Within the first five minutes of Blindsight, inspiration is paired with desperation. First, we hear from famed mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer, a blind athlete who successfully scaled Mount Everest. Then, we witness two blind Tibetan boys cursed on the streets by a stranger: "You should eat your father's corpse." This is the kind of balance that defines this film, a documentary that's as good -- or better -- than any of the higher profile docs of the past decade.

Blindsight combines the West and the East, the blind and the sighted, the sympathetic and the intolerant. It tells the story of a group of blind Tibetan kids, shunned by their society, living in the shadow of the Himalayas at a special school. In the process of following Weihenmayer's adventures, the school and its German headmistress contact the climber to learn more. Weihenmayer goes one big step further than just visiting: He gathers his personal climb team, flies to Tibet and plans an ascent with the kids.

But he doesn't set up some run-of-the-mill climb. The expedition sets out for Lhakpa-Ri, a demanding 23,000-foot peak, just short of Everest itself. Considering none of these kids has any real climbing or hiking experience, questions leap out: Why such an intimidating goal? Must they go to dangerous heights for their spirits to ascend?

The lack of a firm answer creates just one of the intriguing elements of the film -- and more than a bit of anger and frustration from the viewer. Director Lucy Walker, who previously made the Amish-focused documentary Devil's Playground, has sharpened her eye and storytelling, sharing the youngsters' personal lives throughout, portraying them as challenged but hopeful heroes. This forces us to wonder what they really want at every turn, all while experienced climbers urge them to push forward.

It would have been enough for Walker to soak in the incomparable scenery, taking us to the streets, homes, and temples of Tibet. But, like the kids she documents, Walker goes further so each kid has a narrative backstory, told from his own point of view. These are strategically scattered throughout the movie, intercut with the actual climb. And they quickly take us down to earth, both literally and figuratively, as the expedition gets closer to Lhakpa-Ri.

One standout diversion involves the story of Tashi, a 19-year-old who worked away from his family as a beggar and was regularly beaten as a youth. Before the climb -- but later in the film's narrative -- he travels with school leaders to find his family in China. Walker wisely avoids sentiment, focusing instead on Tashi's reaction to a hotel room, or thoughts on flying for the first time. When a connection is finally made, Walker spends a bit of time on the meeting but doesn't milk it. She'd rather see Tashi later explain that this reunion is good, but also not so good.

Blindsight hits all the right notes: It transports us to an exotic locale, documents an important event, and challenges lines of thinking. It's all within an editing structure -- and featuring spot-on music by Nitin Sawhney -- that conveys drama so organically we barely sense it working so well. If anyone tried to tell you a story about this climb and these kids, Blindsight is exactly what you'd think it should look like.

Trust me, it's just a tiny hill.



Blindsight

Facts and Figures

Run time: 104 mins

In Theaters: Friday 8th August 2008

Distributed by: Spark Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 48 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Lucy Walker

Producer: Sybil Robson

Starring: Gavin Attwood as Himself, Sally Berg as Herself, Sonam Bhumtso as Herself, Michael Brown as Himself, Dachung as Himself, Jeff Evans as Himself, Gyenshen as Himself, Stefani Jackenthal as Herself

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