Movie News & Reviews

In 'Blindsight' you root for the kids

If current governor of New York David Paterson has taught us anything, it's that the blind are capable of doing anything -- even having extramarital affairs that were just as illicit and freaky-sneaky as the next guy's.

Erik Weihenmayer is another person who didn't let his loss of sight deter him from achieving -- in his case, climbing Mount Everest in 2001. In the documentary "Blindsight," he imparts his wisdom and guidance to some sight-impaired Tibetan teenagers, as they attempt themselves to reach the peak of Lhakpa-Ri, a mountain in the shadow of Everest. (Guiding kids through rough terrain has become something of a high-profile gig for him; another still-unreleased movie, "Fellowship of the Andes," has him leading blind kids across the Andes toward Machu Picchu.)

Of course, it's easier said than done. Many of these kids haven't been anywhere outside their village. However, from the way the movie tells it, they would rather be anywhere but.

"Blindsight" may be something of an eye-opener (no pun intended) for people who see Tibetans as peaceful, respectful folk. Apparently blind Tibetans are considered something of a scourge to the community: imperfect, incompetent mistakes who are even looked down upon by their parents. One kid had his old man turn him over to a Chinese couple, who forced him to go out on the street and panhandle. The more you watch the movie, the more you ask yourself why they need to climb a mountain -- surviving as human beings appears to be just as brave and strenuous enough.

And yet, these kids, students of Sabriye Tenberken's Braille Without Borders school in Lhasa, still want to take the adventure. Yet while Weihenmayer and his crew of Western guides may be ready to hit the mountains, with a concerned Tenberken in tow, they learn that it's not as instant a challenge for the kids. As they take the trek, high-altitude sickness and edema begin to set in for some of the students, making the guides underestimate the danger of this particular journey.

Directed with a well-meaning, occasionally scattershot eye by Lucy Walker ("The Devil's Playground"), "Blindsight" ultimately wins you over, naturally, through the kids' diligence. Just like when those children of Calcutta prostitutes from "Born Into Brothels" began picking up cameras and started becoming pint-size Sebastiao Salgados, these youngsters are out to prove that they do matter. Having been told they wouldn't amount to anything, they take a chance and attempt to achieve some sort of accomplishment that proves their worthiness. You can't help but root for them even when you know this journey is futile and pointlessly life-threatening.

Eventually, Weihenmayer and those aggressive, somewhat arrogant guides come to learn what most moviegoers figure out way before they do: For these kids, it's not reaching the top that's the pinnacle of success; it's going out and doing it in the first place.