Uninterested in revolutionizing the documentary form, Blindsight instead proves the enduring potential afforded by straightforward verité filmmaking methods. Lucy Walker’s film, about six blind Tibetan teens who endeavor to scale Lhakpa Ri, a peak on the north side of Mount Everest, with the help of pioneering, Everest-conquering blind climber Erik Weihenmayer, employs what’s become a familiar structural template, interrupting footage of the hike with backstory snapshots of its young, disabled subjects. This approach can be a little too neat and tidy at times, but the strength of Walker’s doc is that it naturally expands from simply a can-do inspirational tale into a more complex, non-judgmental portrait of differing cultural and personal values. The six teens are students at a school for the blind established by German teacher Sabriye Tenberken, whose own goals for her charges on this trek—to not only give them self-worth, but more importantly, to create a sense of solidarity between them—differ from Weihenmayer and his adventurous compatriots’ more single-minded desire to reach the 23,000-foot-high Lhakpa Ri summit. This conflict between gung-ho daredevils and cautious educators is, as one of Weihenmayer’s comrades says, partially one between West and East mindsets, and Blindsight is canny enough to create considerate space for both of these viewpoints, the film recognizing what a morale-boosting personal accomplishment successfully scaling Lhakpa Ri would be for the kids (whose Tibetan culture deems blindness a punishment for past-life misdeeds), while simultaneously acknowledging that the destination might not be as important as the journey. Such attitudinal munificence, when married to brief but piercing snapshots of Tibetan discrimination against the blind—some of which comes directly from the handicapped individuals’ parents—adds layers to the rather traditional story of underdogs overcoming odds, though the particulars of said tale are astounding enough to make up for any cheesy devices employed (such as an end-credits performance of the song “Happy Together”). Most resonant, however, is Walker’s subtle, depressing suggestion: that climbing a mountain is the length some disadvantaged people must go to earn self-esteem for themselves and respect from others.
- 104 min
- Lucy Walker
- Sabriye Tenberken, Erik Weihenmayer, Sonam Bhumtso, Gyenshen, Dachung, Kyila, Tenzin, Tashi
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