Jason DaSilva’s When I Walk at Hot Docs 2013

AAF is co-presenting

When I Walk

A Film by Jason DaSilva

at 

HOTDOCS_colour

3 screenings only!

Friday, April 26th, 2013 @ 9:30pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Saturday, April 27th, 2013 @ 2:00pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Saturday, May 4th, 2013 @ 1:30pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

 

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“This was the best doc at Sundance 2013.”
-Hollywood Chicago

★★★★½
“When I Walk presents a meditation on a life well lived. It doesn’t attempt a simplistic answer. Instead, it gazes at life’s injustices, its mysteries, its quirks of fate– but also at the beauty of fleeting moments, the relationships we forge, and the legacy we leave behind.”
-Film Threat

About the Film:

When Jason DaSilva was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis at 25, his legs were literally taken from beneath him, forcing him to confront some harsh realities about his future. He was a filmmaker who travelled the world and now had to face that he couldn’t brush his teeth without help. He wonders if he can find love with someone who can see past his physical challenges. Turning the camera on himself, he documents a seven-year struggle with a disease that has no cure and a world filled with increasing obstacles. The result is a very personal, ambitious and genuine view of a life that takes nothing for granted. Not only are Da Silva’s daily challenges recorded, he self-reflexively shows his physical struggle with trying to construct this documentary. Nothing is kept hidden, which makes the victories and miracles we witness all the more inspiring.

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Interview with Jason DaSilva:

Last week, AAF’s Katie McMillan had a chance to speak with filmmaker Jason DaSilva about his film, his process, and disability rights. Their conversation is included below.

 

Katie: First off, I just want to say how much I enjoyed your film. I found it really unlike any documentary I’ve seen before. Can you talk a bit about how you decided to make it?

Jason: Yeah, I started making the film in 2006, about a year after I was diagnosed. I’m a documentarian but more than anything I’m an artist. I went to art school and this project is more based in theory from an art perspective, than wanting to make a documentary. I just happened to get into documentary. In a way it was sort of influenced by artists like Marina Abramovic and another artist Vito Acconci, Miranda July does this a lot, pushing the limits and boundaries of art in terms of the physical body. Basically when we started the film, I thought wouldn’t it be interesting – if I am going to decline in health – to film myself during the process? So that’s how it started and all the circumstances that happened within it created the story. But my original intention was to create kind of a performance art piece.

Katie: How did the filmmaking process change as your MS progressed?

Jason: It became more pointed I think. When I went from able-bodied to disabled, things in the last few years became more significant, and more life changing. When you lose the ability to do certain things and transform from able-bodied to disabled, things become more pointed; circumstances have an added desperation but also more significance.

Katie: I really enjoyed the self-reflection in the film that you don’t often get from a documentary. And towards the end of the film you address concerns about not being able to finish it. How did you overcome those obstacles to get it done?

Jason: That’s a good question. You know, to this day I’m even surprised that I got it done because it feels like I’m still in the moment of just getting the film out there. So in a way I feel like the film is done, but it’s not done, because the next step is getting the word out there about the film. And I didn’t realize it’s such a unique thing: people with disabilities getting their stories on screen is something that isn’t typically done – which is so weird. It should concern the mainstream because everyone goes through the process of living and dying but in a way it’s still swept under the rug. People are more concerned with telling stories about things of a trivial nature, in comparison. So I don’t really feel like the film is done. Because now I’m realizing that the real challenge is getting the film out there more than anything. I mean it’s great that the film got made; it’s great that this one story got told but this is the next major hurdle. And it bugs me because I wish that there were more venues, or that there was more openness to telling stories that are this universal.

Jason DaSilva

“It’s also treading new ground, for myself, but also for the industry at large. I think that films about people with disabilities have rarely been done by people with disabilities.”

Katie: Have you found that the reception of the film, or the process of getting it out there, has been different than with the films you have worked on in the past?

Jason: Yes, for sure. For sure it’s been different. I’ve worked on films about different social issues but not really anything related to – well first of all, it wasn’t a self-portrait, so it’s more challenging that way, in terms of the storytelling process. Also, I worked on social issues before in my documentaries. A lot of them were about racial issues and things like that. So it’s just something different than people expected that I would work on. But it’s weird, you know, the powers that be, the funders and people in distribution, don’t really find it palatable and many people in the film industry don’t even realize that the disability rights movement exists, that these stories need to be told. So that is still frustrating to me.

Katie: Yeah, and following up on that, do you feel like your relationship to the film industry has changed?

Jason: Yeah, for sure. Because I feel like now I’m the guy who’s sitting on the edge of it. I do have a lot of really great supporters but at the same time I don’t feel like I’m embraced to be part of the mainstream film industry as much as I should, which drives me insane because I definitely put my work out there.

Katie: As a filmmaker making a self-portrait, how difficult was it to tell your own story as opposed to someone else’s story?

Jason: It was super difficult. To this day, I don’t like watching the film and I’m glad I got it done. And while my original intent was to make a self-portrait art piece more than anything, it’s still super frustrating to put myself out there and be seen by so many people… was that the question? (Laughs).

Katie: Yes, exactly. And how was the experience different than your other documentary projects?

Jason: It’s a feature film. So it’s a lot longer than my other films, but it’s also a self-portrait so it’s more intimate and more difficult. It’s also treading new ground, for myself, but also for the industry at large. I think that films about people with disabilities have rarely been done by people with disabilities. And when they have, I don’t think it strikes the right chord or something. People don’t want to see it. There was a lot of stigma attached to it. Generally what I’m finding is that distributors find it very difficult to tell a story like this. And I wish it would change but I didn’t realize how difficult it is. People don’t want to embrace a film that’s a self-portrait about- even a story like this where it’s about triumph over tragedy – the mere fact that it’s about disease or that it’s about mortality… a non-fiction film about mortality is so difficult for distributors to really get behind. I’m thinking of making my next film about penguins… or babies…

Katie: Within the film, there are some really personal challenges expressed – some by yourself, some by your wife Alice, and your mother – how did you friends and family feel about being on camera?

Jason: I think they just kind of put up with it. I don’t think they expected that the film would go anywhere. They just kind of did it out of love and respect for me. But I don’t think they had any problems with being on camera. If anything, it was a way for them to talk about what’s on their minds. And to be ‘actors’ and everybody loves being on camera.

Interpretation by Jason DaSilva

Interpretation by Jason DaSilva

“I just can’t write or draw anymore so in some ways making the film and showing the work was an homage to the fact that I created all this work.”

 

Katie: You mentioned that you went to art school and what I was wondering when I was watching the film and looking at all the creative visuals – the animation, photography, art work – is that all your work or were you working with other artists as well?

Jason: That’s my work. Except for the animation. The animation was done by a friend of mine in a company out of Montreal. But I went to school in B.C. at Emily Carr so that was all my work from when I was in art school. I’m a documentarian, but I’m an artist through-and-through so I speak that language. I just can’t write or draw anymore so in some ways making the film and showing the work was an homage to the fact that I created all this work.

Katie: What’s your relationship to the disability community and disability activism?

Jason: You know, I’m not as involved as I would like to be, just because I’ve been stuck in my bubble, working on my film. But I’m slowly putting myself out there more and more. I’m working with a group here in New York called Reelabilities Film Festival. Now that my work is done and now that I’ve been in the world of able-bodied to disabled, I’m putting myself out there more.

Katie: And going through that transition from able-bodied to disabled, when did you first come across the disability rights movement and see that as something that was going on at a grassroots level?

Jason: I think in 2006 when I first started the film. That was some of my background. I looked into it just to see where things were at. But it’s still really grim. I was just on a panel with somebody who was saying the disability movement is within its battles in the courtroom. And I think that’s so false. I really believe that it needs to come from the people because right now, things are falling apart. It’s lagged behind other movements like the black civil rights movement, they gay and lesbian movement- they’ve all gained traction. And the disability movement is so slow. It started in the 60s and 70s behind all these other movements and it just kind of fell apart because of it being – in New York especially – moved into the realm of litigation, something that’s battled in the courtroom. And I don’t think it should be that way at all.

One of the things that I talk about in the film is this idea of bringing accessibility back to people with that project that I did called axsmap.com. So that’s an example of something I’m trying to do to keep it grassroots and keep it on a human level. It just feels like it’s kind of a grim time right now. So I’m just hoping that we can bring it back.

Jason DaSilva will be attending all three screenings of When I Walk at Hot Docs. Bring your questions for the filmmaker to the screening!