“Naturally, I decided to make a film about it,” so says Jason DaSilva of When I Walk, a documentary about how he, a movie director, is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and then how he takes on the challenge of not only his ailment, but also making a movie about it.
When I Walk is a powerful film from the get-go, with the utterly breathtaking filming of DaSilva first feeling the symptoms of the degenerative disease while on a beach vacation. I don’t think I’ll be able to get the images of his perplexed struggle to stand in that moment, so vividly contrasted with the joyous thrill of a family holiday. We literally see the moment when his life changes.
When I Walk falls into a powerfully intimate category of documentary in which the director tells the story of his or her own affliction. Judith Helfland made A Healthy Baby Girl, a POV film, about her battle with cancer caused by the prescription drug that her mother took during pregnancy. People Say I’m Crazy is directed by John Cadigan, an artist with schizophrenia, who documents his experience of his illness. On a lighter note, there is Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, directed by Joe Cross (with Kurt Engfehr), who was 100 pounds overweight and suffering from an autoimmune disease; Cross’s film is more of a self-help, gung-ho trip to a better life.
But the film that When I Walk most reminded me of was the yet-to-be-released One Cut, One Life, by Ed Pincus and Lucia Small, about the filmmakers’ struggles with death, Pincus’s leukemia and Small’s heartbreaking experiences of two friends’ passing. I say this not because having MS is like dying of cancer (Pincus did sadly die after filming was complete) but because the filmmakers’ approaches are similar. They both manage to weave their story of an affliction around something else: who they are as people, especially their passionate outlook on life. Neither director allows their dire situation to weigh down his film. They tell stories that propel the audience forward, wanting to stick with them through to the end credits.
And, happily, in DaSilva’s case, beyond; I hear he is working on a follow-up to When I Walk.