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BLINDSIGHT(director: Lucy Walker; cinematographer: Petr Cikhart; editor: Sebastian Duthy; music: Nitin Sawhney; Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Sybil Robson Orr; Robson Entertainment; 2006-Japan-in Tibetan with English subtitles)
“An amazing no-frills inspirational documentary shot with deep feeling and conviction by Lucy Walker.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An amazing no-frills inspirational documentary shot with deep feeling and conviction by Lucy Walker. It’s expertly photographed by Petr Cikhart. Set against the beautiful but frightening backdrop of the Himalayas in Tibet, six blind Tibetan youngsters (their ages range from 15 to 19, with one member a female) accompanied by western guides attempt to climb a 23,000 foot Himalayan peak on the north side of Mount Everest called Lhakpa Ri. The blind kids are students at Braille without Borders in Lhasa, Tibet, a school founded in 1998 (the first such school in Tibet) by the courageous German-born social activist Sabriye Tenberken — who became blind at 12 — and her sighted Dutch partner Paul Kronenberg. The school teaches the students to read and speak in three languages (Tibetan, Chinese and English) and they are also taught a number of skills so they can live independently.

Sabriye, in 2001, emails the American Erik Weihenmayer, who lost his eyesight as a youth and as a young man went on to become the first and still only blind person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, to tell him about her school. Erik is so impressed that not only does he journey to Tibet, but brings along a team of expert mountain guides and organizes a most challenging three-week climb to the top of Lhakpa Ri. The kids have no experience as mountain climbers, so they undergo a rigorous training period and each are partnered with a sensitive guide. The film becomes not only about the dangerous and grueling climb, but the children’s need to find a place of acceptance in the world. In Tibet, many of the ignorant don’t look too kindly on the blind and curse them for their bad karma–believing they must have done something bad in their past lives to be punished this time around and therefore ostracize them.

The film offers some dramatic tales about the youngsters and their families, as it follows in a narrative form some of the diverse youngsters away from the climb and tells of their family life and ambitions. But the main suspense is reserved for when the team reaches the Everest Base Camp at 17,000 feet and illness, fatigue and severe headaches set in and Sabriye questions the guides if it’s worth going on since the children never cared about reaching the top and have different goals than the risk taking adventurous climbers. The kids just want to make new friends, experience something challenging and were interested in meeting their hero Erik, and mostly wanted to transcend their limits to show that blind people can also have regular lives. Erik, on the other hand, doesn’t want to give in and wants the group to reach the top no matter what, as he believes everything worth doing in life requires taking certain calculated risks. His idea of success differs radically from the more sensible and protective Sabriye, who by this time, at 21,000 feet elevation, thinks the children don’t have anything more to prove and argues that continuing the climb to the top would be unnecessarily endangering the youngsters’ lives. This clash of differing values and the grit of the determined kids, makes this a suspenseful and an unforgettable film. I would think that anyone with an ounce of humanity in them will be opening up their hearts to these wonderful youngsters. It also shows that all the adults on the expedition, both the blind and those blessed with sight, are caring people who want to do what’s right, as their dilemma is whether to retreat with the few sick children or go on. The debate amongst the adults gives everyone a chance to get back on the Buddhist message, ‘that the top isn’t important, it’s the journey itself that counts.’


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”