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on January 16, 2009
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary film called Blindsight. This is a story about six blind Tibetan teenagers (and their Western guides) who attempt to climb the 23,000 ft Lhakpa Ri - that's right next door to Mt. Everest in the Himalayas. And, overall, I found the film to be compelling, entertaining, moving, and thought-provoking. My attention was definitely locked in from the first scene and I was certainly moved by the story of these courageous teens. So, it's a very watchable movie, and I think you've got to start there.
Now let's talk missiology. There are a couple of missiologically significant themes in the film that are worth mentioning here. The first has to do with how Tibetan society deals with issues related to physical disability. Blindsight portrays these blind teens as outcasts from a Tibetan society that provides an explanation for their disability that blends Buddhist and folk religious ideas. Both thaumaturgical (e.g. evil spirits) and karmic (i.e. bad deeds done in past lives being punished in this life) are blamed for their blindness, resulting in a stigma that forces the children to the lowest places in the community. I was especially shocked to hear one Tibetan woman curse two of the boys by saying, "You aren't worthy to eat your father's corpse!" If I had a nickel . . .
A second missiologically significant theme is hinted at on the back of the DVD case in a quote attributed to Entertainment Weekly that mentions the "importance of journey versus destination." I think that in this regard the film does a good job of highlighting the U.S. American emphasis on accomplishment and finishing (represented well by the perspectives and attitudes of the American guides) over against an emphasis on journey. There is one memorable voiceover in which Sabriye Tenberken (the German woman who started the blind school in Lhasa where all the teens lived and studied), talks about how some of the kids had told her that they wished the climb hadn't been so rushed. They felt that there wasn't enough time to smell and feel and listen or to sing songs and tell stories to each other. This is a great example of the difference between monochronic and polychronic values - the Americans pushing the team on and on each day with specific goals and deadlines; the Tibetans wishing to sit awhile and listen to sound of the yak bells or entertain each other with stories. Well, I don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't go into any more details about how this theme is developed in the movie.
My biggest criticism of Blindsight was how the film gradually became too focused (in my opinion) on the Westerners and especially on the conflicts they were having with each other along the way. There is value here, of course, as it allows us to see how unconsciously Westerners can assume a dominant position vis-à-vis non-Westerners. It was particularly interesting to watch what seemed to be team meetings being conducted during which only the Westerners were talking, debating, and deciding. At one point an American guide said, "Well, finally I feel like we're communicating." This is in a tent full of Westerners and Tibetans, but what he meant was that the Germans and the Americans were "finally communicating." I guess I just wished that the filmmakers would have gotten more interviews and voiceovers with the teenagers, so I wouldn't have to guess so much at how they were processing the experience.
So . . . this is a good, compelling, moving and inspiring film that makes just good movie-watching on the one hand, but also provides rich fodder for missiological reflection and discussion on the other. I especially recommend it for use in classroom and training settings. People working in a folk religious or Tibetan context will find this particularly interesting as will those working cross-culturally among people with disabilities.
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on April 27, 2010
One of the most touching, almost sublime, moments in Lucy Walker's documentary, Blindsight, is a meditative exploration of some ice formations on the side of Mount Everest. The film, which follows blind mountaineer, Erik Weihenmayer, as he leads six blind Tibetan teenagers up to the 23,000 foot summit of Lhakpa Ri (practically next door to Everest's summit), spends a lot of time musing about what they're doing: the challenges of being blind, the importance of building self-esteem in young people, the clash of Western and Tibetan notions of success. As the teenagers and Weihenmayer get closer and closer to the summit, and as things get harder and harder (Weihenmayer is the only experienced mountaineer), a new question pops up: is reaching the summit really the most important thing?

It's then that we have this meditative moment by the ice, when the kids teach the mountaineering crew that sometimes stopping to soak in a moment is much more important than pushing your way through to an arbitrary goal. The joy on everyone's faces, the lilting background music and the vibe of hard-earned peace and contemplation is absolutely lovely. Much more than anything else in the film, this scene captures the bittersweet beauty of what these kids are doing and what it means.

Documentaries are few and far between here in PPCCland, mostly because we have trouble finding them and then, have trouble reviewing them. You can't really talk about characterization, narrative and aesthetics when the film is, by definition, only supposed to document the facts. Of course, documentary-making is just another form of storytelling. Blindsight's storytelling is normally straightforward: a swift prologue-type section with introductions and interviews of the team, followed by a more day-by-day accounting of their trek up the mountain.

Layered over the trek is a back story of one of the team's young men, Tashi, who is the group's outcast and weak link: always trailing behind, he has difficulty during the trek and has an unfortunate background (he was a street kid before joining the Braille Without Borders school). Tashi, who quickly becomes the film's special hero, is moody and troubled, yet also cheeky and joyous. You can't help but root for his success. And in scenes running parallel to his climb up the mountain, we follow Tashi's journey into a remote town of Szechuan Province, China, for a long-overdue reunion with his estranged family.

Tashi's story is occasionally likened to Weihenmayer's background as well: there are touching moments when Weihenmayer remembers his own gangly, awkward youth, his own feelings of being an outcast (Weihenmayer went blind at 13). Watching Weihenmayer's growing closeness and concern for Tashi - especially as it becomes increasingly unclear whether Tashi will be able to make it up the mountain - is very touching.

While there are some interesting discussions about differing cultural attitudes towards blindness, and the dynamic between the American mountaineering experts and the Tibetan kids and workers is fascinating and even a little ambiguous at times, the documentary on the whole sends a crisp, powerful message about working hard and winning big. The simple, humanistic film is much more interested in showing the different back stories of the kids and their different personalities than making any overly-philosophical statement about disability or culture. For that reason, we think this film will be both inspiring and touching for a very broad audience.

*Review originally posted at The Post-Punk Cinema Club: [...].
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on April 11, 2016
What's not to love about this story?! The kids in this film are great, I think my only criticism for the film would be that I would have liked to have heard more from them and less from the adults as they made their way along the journey. I would liked to have known how they felt about all the new exlperiences they were having and to see things a little more from their perspective. I think my favorite part of the film is a scene in which we see them all exploring and playing together at their highest point on the mountain. This is really a story about forming relationships and friendships, finding ones self, learning to trust and becoming a team. I would definitely recommend this film.
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on February 12, 2009
I will not disagree with the previous reviewers about how this film could be improved: there are some odd editing decisions, and - as the previous reviews have noted - various faults: yes, we would like to hear more from the children, and less from the adults.

But these faults may simply be the film's honest exposure of the faults in the underlying story and people: two groups of people that have never met before plan to climb a Himalayan mountain with blind children. While planning and communication in advance can avoid some problems, the real tests will come at altitude.

Whatever the film's faults - and I do not include the open questions that still niggle at me afterwards - this film has moved me like no other in years: at every turn, we see people struggling not just back to their feet after huge blows, but to the roof of the world. We also see the thousand small ways in which, over the years, they have been helped to get to this point. As a result of watching this film, I know that more is possible - and hope that I too might find my Lhakpa Ri. Thank you for reminding me to see.
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on May 20, 2014
A story that needs to be spread. Normal people doing incredible things. Gut wrenching at times b/c of the ways the children are treated by the world but in the end they plow through it and are the ones that display true courage, friendship, and more.
It was a wonderful documentary and it made me so happy to see what they are doing now. A masterpiece!
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on January 7, 2013
I enjoyed the movie. It was amazing to see how the characters were able to accomplish what they did, but because it tells their life stories as well, I feel like the biggest victory are the lives they live and what they endure each day.
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on December 12, 2010
This is a highly moving film in which several Western mountain climbers come together to bring six Tibetan blind children to the foot of Mt. Everest at approximately 23,000 feet. There are many sub-themes that never fully get explored in this film however they are touched upon. For example, the Tibetan cultural stigma of being blind; Tashi, the weakest link in the group of six reuniting with his natural family (As a side note, he confesses in the film to being Han Chinese from Sichuan Province and not Tibetan having lied in order to be admitted to the Llhasa Braile Without Borders School; the return of the youngsters into their home environments and how they changed, matured and benefitted from the experience). However limiting the overall story line and plot are, this does not really deter from the movie being extremely moving and very entertaining.

This is one of the few Western films that even hints at anything negative coming out of the Tibetan culture. I applaud the filmmakers for that limited, yet brutal, honesty. Tibet seems to be held on such a high pedastal in the West, mostly because of its horrific treatment by Han Chinese that one gets the sense nothing, outside of political repression and cultural genocide from without, goes wrong there. Had it not been for the Llhasa Braile Without Borders School started by a German blind woman,Sabriye Tenberken, these unfortunate children would never really have had a chance at a decent life.

Erik Weihenmayer, a blind American mountain climber is known for having climbed the summit, Mt Everest. When he is contacted by Sabriye, he proposes guiding blind children from her school to a summit near Mt. Everest. The journey is what counts in this film even though hey never reach their goal and even though the actual documentary is more focused on the Western mountain guides than the blind children, with the exception of one, Taishi.

At face value this is a film that could have gone further and deeper in so many directions. However, upon deeper reflection, this film is about the human spirit of helping the less fortunate and not giving up on them. It is about realizing that all can learn and benefit together when struggling for a common goal and even though that goal may not be reached, not all is lost. Yes, the kids say little in this film, but what they say, mostly through Sabriye, come through LOUD AND CLEAR. Like what is the rush - stop and smell the roses (in this case feel the icicles and listen to the yak bells). The film suddenly comes to a nice ending, when it seems a couple of the kids cannot go any further for different reasons, and all realize that they exceptional kids have done an extraordinary job of achieving something most in their own culture have not quite done.

This film is certainly inspirational in a teamwork sense and could prove motivational in any training setting. It forces you to think about the less fortunate; what you can teach them AND what they can teach you!! I highly recommend this as it is all in all a great film.

We can all do with a little less ego!
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on April 1, 2014
First off, I want to say how moved I am by Sabriye Tenberken's work. Her courage to travel to Tibet alone, and blind nonetheless, then help all of these teens is nothing short of remarkable. I really enjoyed this movie and feel like I gained a better understanding of the blind community, as I have never known anyone who is blind. The end of the moving is so awesome because it tells you what these young adults are doing with their lives now. I just knew they would all be successful because they are magnificent human beings.
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A friend told me about this movie years ago but it took me a while to get to watching it. Now I wish I'd watched it sooner. The story of six Tibetan youths who try to climb to the 23,000 foot Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Mount Everest is completely inspirational. Many people have died trying to climb Mount Everest so imagine how dangerous it is to climb a mountain when you are blind.

The first half of this movie had me on the edge of my seat. I felt so nervous I could not even watch this all in one sitting. Finally I finished the movie the next afternoon and was glad I did. It is really a beautiful story filled with bravery and tests of endurance. Some of the kids don't make it to the top and have to return because they start having altitude sickness. At this point what truly impressed me was Erik Weihenmayer's kindness. He made sure the kids knew they had done an awesome job and had attained success that few people achieve. Some of the adults seem to get into a bit of an argument about how the kids are being treated. It is hard to judge for yourself since there is little footage of the actual climb. And I felt sorry for the yaks who had to carry all the heavy equipment. At one point they run out of food and this almost compromises the mission.

I think the point of this movie is to show that we should learn to enjoy the journey not just concern ourselves with a destination. There is really something to learn from the Tibetans and yet I was troubled to learn about how they blame the blind kids for being bad in a past life. Blindness seems to them to be a punishment. Erik Weihenmayer of course proves that blindness is actually a gift - what a beautiful soul he is.

~The Rebecca Review
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on August 9, 2013
I found this to be quite a touching movie. Slowly it builds images and concepts about the lives of these 6 young blind adolescents as they try to recover from scars of a culture that rejects them. It is also about the woman who lives her dream to create a school to help transform and change their lives. Eric a blind American mountain climber volunteers to lead these brave youths on an expedition up Mount Everest!
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