This review was originally published on January 21, 2013…
Jason DaSilva stands on the red carpet of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, smiling urbanely as a sea of photographers’ bulbs light the young director’s face. Fast forward a few scant months: Jason and his family race along the beach, laughing in anticipation of approaching planes which buzz low over their heads, catching them in a booming wake as they descend toward the nearby runway. As children play in the sand and the adults look to the sky, the home movie catches Jason—hale and handsome—as his legs buckle, sinking him to the ground. He cannot get up again.
When I Walk documents DaSilva’s battle with multiple sclerosis, a disease that attacks the nervous system. MS is a thief. It maddeningly steals one’s mobility, one’s autonomy, and one’s life. Jason turns the camera upon himself, capturing his physical degradation from 2006 to 2012. Over the course of a handful of years, he transforms from a strapping gym rat who works out hours a day to stave off muscle decay to a wheelchair bound man whose eye sight and ability to use his hands is failing.
Faced with a dire prognosis, to despair is easy; to find meaning and even humor in tragedy is hard. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, the documentary eschews the maudlin and instead focuses on the realities of the filmmaker’s life. DaSilva seems warm and inviting, a talented and resourceful artist who channels his creative drive into the only medium still available to him, film. His brothers gamely push his wheelchair across the beach for a shoot and lug him up stairs in India. His mother, an effusive pragmatist, urges him to buck up when he is feeling down, chiding him that he is acting like a “coddled North American kid!”
And she’s right—life is still good for someone who knows how to savor the moment. Life goes on, and DaSilva lives it—he picks up a girl at a support group, races scooters in the Guggenheim, travels the globe, falls in love, experiences loss, laughs, creates. The world doesn’t come to a standstill because of disease: it continues to spin, some days filled with frustrating tedium, others with overwhelming joy.
When I Walk presents a meditation on a life well lived. It doesn’t attempt a simplistic answer. Instead, it gazes at life’s injustices, its mysteries, its quirks of fate– but also at the beauty of fleeting moments, the relationships we forge, and the legacy we leave behind.