VIFF 2013 Review: When I Walk
When I Walk is a unique documentary where the documentarian is the complete subject of the film. It’s a very personal documentary. Possibly because this may be the last film he ever makes.
We meet Jason da Silva, a promising young documentarian of Indian heritage living in Vancouver. He lived the life of a budding 25 year-old filmmaker and had a promising future ahead. That all changed in 2006 during a family vacation in St. Maartens. His legs weakened and he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. His condition wasn’t fatal but it would lead to weakening of his body and other deteriorations. Jason was encouraged by his mother not to allow his disease to limit what he can do. So Jason decided to make his battle with MS his subject of his next film.
Jason is determined to fight it or deal with it the best way he can. He tries his hands as many different types of medicines and healings. He first travels to his parents’ hometown of Goa, India where he agrees to Ayurveda medicine. He then goes to Lourdes, France on the advice of his very religious Catholic grandmother and receives healing water. He also arranges an appointment for a wonder-surgery that’s a breakthrough in fighting MS and is highly advertised on Youtube by people cured through this surgery. The Ayurveda medicine procedures didn’t work. Lourdes didn’t heal. And this ‘wonder surgery’ only gave limited improvements that didn’t last.
Family unity is another theme in the film as Jason comes from a close family with relatives in Canada, New York and back home in India. His mother is the one who’s trying to encourage him to stay positive and hold his head up high. Though she cries near the end of the film and admits she didn’t know how bad it was and how limiting it would be. There’s another time when he visits a relative in India and tries to find out if his MS is inherited.
Despite his illness and its dehabilitation over time, Jason continues to be strong. He talks of difficulties going to restaurants and various other places in New York. He meet up with another person in a wheelchair and they decide to organize a blog of wheelchair accessible locations in New York. It’s not just simply taking restaurants that advertise themselves as ‘wheelchair accessible’ at face value. Both Jason and his colleague go to the various locations and test out how ‘wheelchair accessible’ the places are in both the facilities and the washrooms. Jason also purchases various filmmaking software and various computer accessories to assist him with his filmmaking as his body functioning lessens over time. They show one gadget which assists in functions as Jason makes commands in a microphone. Some days it’s so hard to talk, Alice–who I will talk about shortly– has to learn filmmaking and its functions in order to complete certain jobs for Jason.
Possibly the biggest plot of the documentary is not just simply overcoming his condition of MS in daily life but his relationship with Alice Cook. Before Alice, Jason was a frequent dater in the film making scene. He first thought MS would be the end of the dating road. Then he went to a support group for people with MS offered by his mother. He met a woman named Alice who was around the same age as him. Alice is a fully able person who attended the sessions in support of her stepfather who has MS. Alice took an interest in Jason. They started dating. Alice started helping and assisting Jason in his daily life. Then in 2009 they married. They even show Jason using his scooter with Alice on the back and a Just Married sign on the seat.
However right after the marriage came some new hurdles. First was the stress of being married to a physically limited person. Alice is a very cooperative and a very supportive wife but the stress does take its toll and Alice needs a vacation for a week to give herself relief. One of the things she sacrificed in her relationship with Jason was her love of hiking. She would have the chance to hike again after so many years. There’s also the effort of the two to have children. The film takes us to the doctor’s office where Jason learns he’s fertile and conception is possible. The first conception works but Alice miscarries. SPOILER ALERT: However the film ends with Alice showing Jason the result of her home pregnancy test: a positive. The film’s last scene shows the two in the ultrasound lab and the screen showing a healthy fetus.
One thing about this documentary that stands out is how personal this is for the filmmaker. Before MS, Jason was no simple documentarian. He was already showing promise at a young age with short documentaries like Olivia’s Puzzle, Twins Of Mankala and a Song For Daniel. He also had two feature-length documentaries to his credit: Lest We Forget and From The Mouthpiece On Back. One would figure MS would be an end to a filmmaking career at such a young age but Jason’s determined not to let it stop him. The film is very personal as it not only hides nothing of Jason but also of Alice. We see an image of blood in the bathtub when Alice miscarries. We also hear Alice tell her side of the story at times and she holds nothing back. In fact there are times when she’s in tears when she talks of the stress of managing a physically challenged husband and her fears for the future as his condition deteriorates over time. This film is as much about the struggle of the two as it is the triumph. Even Jason admits there are times when he can’t handle it or wants to give up.
Another addition to the documentary is the animation. Often the documentary will go to animated images of Jason in his life, MS eating away at him showing the MS as ‘bugs,’ and various other images. That is another added bonus to the documentary that keeps it from getting mundane. Although the animation is not the most professional, it still adds to the documentary.
As a documentary, it’s questionable whether this is worthy of box office release. It has already made appearances at the Sundance Film Fest and the Hot Docs Film Festival where it even won an award. It’s still possible. One thing I know is that it is definitely eligible for broadcast on a documentary television channel.
When I Walk is a film worth seeing. It’s as truthful about the struggles and the setbacks as it is about the triumphs. Definitely worth seeing for all types of people.
BONUS: If you want to learn more about Jason and When I Walk just go to: http://wheniwalk.com/ There’s even a mailing list to subscribe to.