Imagine waking up in the morning and opening your eyes only to be greeted by more darkness. You feel your way out of bed. Scoot your feet slowly across the floor to make sure you’re not bumping in to anything. You make it to the kitchen and feel around for cabinets. Based on the shape of the objects you find inside them, the sounds those objects make (if any), the texture of their contents, you manage to make breakfast. The rest of the day consists of listening to the TV or radio and more feeling and sensing your way through life. Now imagine having such an affliction while living in abject poverty and being looked upon by the dominant culture as demon-possessed and deserving of your state.
That’s what life is like for six Tibetan teenagers in the documentary Blindsight, a story of eye-opening courage and determination that showcases the very best of the human spirit. All too young, these kids live in a daily atmosphere of fear, rejection, and misunderstanding. Quarantined to a school of their own, their only luxury is mutual understanding shared from their common experience. Enter Erik Weihenmayer, a famous rock climber known for being one of few people to climb the “Seven Summits,” or the highest point on each continent. What makes his story remarkable is the fact he, too, is blind. But even more remarkable than this is the adventure he and these six Tibetan teens embark upon in the film.
Taken in by a blind teacher and adventuress, the students invite Erik to visit their school. Erik believes in them and knows what it will take to get them to the top of a mountain in the shadow of Everest. A 21,500-foot drama unfolds, where we get to share in the personal heartaches and final triumph of a group of kids who never gave up on themselves, even when their world had given up on them. A truly inspiring reality check for your own life, Blindsight is essential viewing for anyone that feels they have something left to prove, or that has yet to give up on their dreams.
Shot on digital video, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation has an earthy tone fitting with the Tibetan/Everest environments. The landscape is equal parts dirt, snow, and sunlight. Most of the action takes place outdoors, and all these scenes are effectively composed and rendered for the viewing audience. The choice of camera gives it more of a Learning Channel look than something you would find at the local cinema, but that’s certainly not a criticism.
The disc contains three tracks, a 5.1, 2.0, and audio description for the blind. Dialog levels are solidly mixed and filtered. The audio description track in particular is deep and bold with pin-drop silence between narrations. Ambient sounds on the main 5.1 track are balanced among speakers, but the energy level of the film itself is mostly quaint and relaxed – an overall fine job from Image Entertainment.
Extras run a little over an hour, but most are worthwhile (for a change).
Making Blindsight: Erik and Director Lucy Walker dish on the evolution of the project in this feature, which is a shade over ten minutes but fascinating if you’re in to the Hollywood side of things.
Insights from Erik and Sabriye: Sabriye Tenberken joins Erik in this look back on the adventure. Sabriye viewed the undertaking as more of a group effort – one for all, all for one. Erik felt if just one of the kids could make it to the top, the mission would be successful. In the end, both are right, but only one philosophy prevails.
Young Tibetans Update: Wherein we catch up with our teenage heroes after the expedition. The most pleasing thing of all? Knowing the achievements they made on their journey spill over to their current lives.
Young Tibetans Trip to USA: Another short feature showcasing the aftermath of the expedition, where the young Tibetans cut loose and travel to America for experiences they would have probably never known if not for the film debut of their story.
Audience Reactions: This feature plays like those promotional trailers that used to be so popular in the eighties and early nineties, but it’s pretty clear the film packs an emotional impact for those that see it – forgivable.
Triumph over adversity is a formula that’s been done to death. Nevertheless, it’s a formula that still works when there is an achievement to celebrate. That achievement can be fictional if the characters are full-blooded; or it can be reality when great people accomplish great things, as in Blindsight. A solid A/V presentation and worthwhile extras take this release to new heights.