When I Walk
Doing a documentary on someone dealing with a debilitating illness is hard enough as it is. But when the subject of the documentary is yourself, well, it makes it all the more difficult.
This is what happened to filmmaker Jason DaSilva who, at the age of 25, discovered he had Multiple Sclerosis. Stranger still is that the first signs of the disease occurred on camera.
While on a family vacation, Jason was documenting the occasion and had handed off camera duties to a family member. It was then that his legs suddenly gave way and he found he couldn’t get up. After a battery of tests, the disease was discovered. So he decided to turn the camera on himself and record his battle with it.
A prolific filmmaker, DaSilva’s politically and emotionally charged films have been well-received on the festival circuit and have aired on outlets like PBS and HBO. But this subject would prove to be a more challenging task, not only because the subject was himself, but also because the disease would make it harder and harder for him to manipulate the equipment needed to film and edit the documentary.
But that is what is so fascinating: DaSilva doesn’t shy away from showing his quickly deteriorating body. We see his stumbles and falls and how, all too soon, he needs a scooter for mobility. We hear from his doting mother (who seems to always be telling him he’s doing things wrong), and eventually his patient girlfriend, Alice, whom he meets in an MS support group. (She is there because her mother has MS.)
Through it all, Da Silva is an engaging presence to watch. It’s hard to see such a likeable guy struggle, so in one sense the film is a bit of a downer. But within that sadness are the joys of his newfound relationship, his mostly sunny outlook on life, and his perseverance to finish what he started despite mounting obstacles.
While there’s nothing flashy or dramatically fresh about this film, it is rare we get to see the story of one man’s disease told from the moment he discovered it happened. His frustration with wanting to share his story, but not being able to perform simple tasks is heartbreaking. Once his relationship with Alice blossoms, other issues come into play. How will she deal with having to take care of him? How will he read to his child if he can’t see?
It’s devastating to witness, but it is also inspiring. Clearly, DaSilva is thriving. And as difficult as it may be for him, he has found a way to continue on. As he points out, we don’t write our fate. Life gives us what it gives us, and it’s up to us as to how we will react. In that there is a beauty to this portrait that is undeniable.