HotDocs13: When I Walk (2013)

How'd you like to wake up one day and discover you have MS? That’s the challenge faced by filmmaker Jason DaSilva in this emotional documentary about the degradation of one’s body and the struggles of disability. While on a tropical vacation, Jason falls down. He struggles to get back up, and soon after discovers he has MS. Being a filmmaker, he decides to make a movie about his illness. The result of this examination is a deeply personal film called When I Walk that sometimes acts more like therapy than reportage.

When I Walk starts in 2006. In that year, we see Jason walking awkwardly and having difficulty with stairs. His condition progresses rapidly. Soon he has a walker, and eventually he ends up in a scooter, unable to stand on his own and navigate confidently. As the years go on, his condition worsens, and his girlfriend Alice is left with the burden of helping with most of his daily functions, including feeding him, shaving him, and helping him go to the bathroom.

When I Walk is so personal it sometimes doesn't feel like a documentary. DaSilva decided shortly after his initial diagnosis that he would make a film of his struggle, and often times the film seems like he’s airing grievances rather than telling a story. But at the same time, it’s important for a person experiencing such hardships to share his struggles.

DaSilva sheds light on the lack of accessibility in New York—one is unable to phone an accessibile cab in the city, for some ridiculous reason—and provides some poignant moments of heartbreak and despair.  The most impressive character in the film may be his girlfriend Alice, who takes her caregiving role in stride and honestly shares her feelings without showing any resentment towards DaSilva.

When I Walk is a navel-gazing documentary, but it’s also a personal examination of what it’s like to discover your own disability. Overall, it seems too much like a personal diary on film, but that does allow for some illuminating insight into what it must be like to wake up on a daily basis feeling that life has unfairly taken away your opportunities.

When I Walk (2013, USA)

Directed by Jason DaSilva.

6 out of 10