In 2006, 25 year-old Jason DaSilva experienced a moment that once and for all indicated that his life had irrevocably changed. While on the beach during a family vacation, he suddenly fell down and was unable to get up. As he and others struggle to get him on his feet again, he laughs it off, but subsequent events would prove that this was a deadly serious occurrence. Just a few months earlier, DaSilva had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis - primary progressive multiple sclerosis, to be exact, a particularly debilitating form of the disease that doctors told him would lead to loss of his vision and motor control. Up until that point, however, this seemed merely a theoretical possibility. But that fateful fall on the beach brought home to DaSilva the fact that his condition could no longer be denied or ignored.
Jason DaSilva happens to be a filmmaker, and that fateful fall on the beach, as with so many other moments in his creative and personal life, was captured for posterity on film (or video, to be more accurate). As tragically unfortunate a turn of events this was, DaSilva's disease actually resulted in some good things. One of the best of them is When I Walk, a moving and lovingly made personal chronicle of DaSilva's progressive physical decline, taking the viewer on his emotional journey and his quest to improve his condition as he suffers from a disease which currently has no cure.
When I Walk could have been a grim litany of the daunting challenges DaSilva's disease posed upon him - and to be sure, he doesn't shy away from showing us many of these - but he leavens this with a bracing sense of humor and playful visuals, including animation depicting how MS causes white blood cells to attack the brain and nerve endings. Some of this humor also arrives courtesy of DaSilva's no-nonsense, often brutally rationalist mother, who basically tells him to suck it up when he complains to her, to stop being a "mollycoddled North American kid" and remember that there are others in this world who have it far worse.
What was particularly cruel about DaSilva's disease was that it struck him at a moment during which he was enjoying considerable success as a filmmaker; his films, which had him traveling to places as far flung as India and Iraq, enjoyed great acclaim on the festival circuit. His personal life was equally charmed, with lots of friends and a revolving door of beautiful female companions, who show up at one point in the film in a rueful montage - with faces obscured to protect privacy - memorializing the women who disappeared after he became ill.
DaSilva, in addition to visiting doctors and going through intense physical therapy, traveled the world to find some sort of cure, trying yoga, ayurvedic massage, meditation, even a trip to Lourdes to bathe in the healing waters of its famous Catholic shrine. But none of this worked; his motor skills and vision steadily deteriorated, forcing him to abandon a short film he attempted to make in India. At a certain point while struggling with the disease, DaSilva decided to turn the camera on himself and his declining body, making himself a film subject.
When I Walk, in addition to being an intimate chronicle of illness, unexpectedly also becomes a great love story. While attending an MS support group, DaSilva meets Alice Cook, an able-bodied woman whose mother has MS. Soon after, they begin a relationship; some of the most moving passages of the film concern the complications that burden their romance, as Alice must also become a caretaker with Jason progressively becoming unable to feed himself, put on his clothes, or go to the bathroom without assistance. They have joy and fun in their lives also; one nice sequence has Jason and Alice zipping on motor scooters through the Guggenheim Museum. Alice also becomes a filmmaking collaborator as well, assisting with editing and camerawork when Jason becomes physically unable to do these things alone. Part of the painful process of this illness is the necessity of relinquishing control and depending on others, in Jason's case in both day-to-day activities and creative endeavors.
Jason DaSilva - along with his wife Alice Cook - has created a remarkable film depicting both personal tragedies and unexpected miracles. When I Walk, despite its potentially downbeat subject, tells its story with considerable heart and humor, and is ultimately an uplifting portrait of unceasing perseverance and an endlessly creative, artistic spirit.
When I Walk opens in New York on October 25 at the IFC Center with the filmmakers as well as many other guests in attendance. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit IFC Center's website. Jason DaSilva has also created AXS Map (which he discusses in the film), a crowd-sourced website and app that helps those with disabilities find restaurants, stores, and other businesses that will accommodate them. For more information on this, visit AXS Map's website.
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