Friday, February 13, 2009


"A lot of people say, I can’t do it because I’m blind, or I have red hair, or my feet are too big. Get the right team around you, don’t set boundaries and go for it.” — Sabriye Tenberken

A movie like Blindsight might make even the most virtuous and well meaning among us think we don’t do enough with our lives, that we can always do more. (We can, and we should.)

The people in this move will astound you. You may have to help your kids understand just how astonishing this story is, but your editorial input and clarifying comments will be worth any interruption. (I’m recommending this for patient kids 10 and up, hopefully with a little documentary experience under their belt.)

Blindsight follows a group of six blind Tibetan teens, who ascend a 23,000-foot Himalayan peak. They are mostly poor, shunned by varying degrees by their families and villages, and certainly know nothing about climbing as the story begins. They learn everything, slowly and patiently, with a gleam in their eyes and nervous grins; they are seeing so much more than a mountaintop in their dreams.

Blinded at age 12, Sabriye Tenberken is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Mother Theresa Award recipient and the founder of Braille Without Borders, a foundation that has transformed
attitudes about the blind (and of the blind) in some pretty remote places. One of them is Tibet, where she traveled from Germany, alone at age 26, to set up a blind school for Tibetan children. She set out on horseback with a Tibetan woman as her guide, to find blind kids who had been ostracized by their families and neighbors, and literally gave them new lives. She also created the Braille text for the Tibetan language.

(And she hasn’t won a Nobel Prize?)

“Just because you lose your sight,
it doesn’t mean you lose your vision.
- Erik Weihenmayer

Also completely blinded at age 12 (the same year he lost his mother in a car accident; imagine that for a moment), Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person, in 2001, to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. He is one of only 150 mountaineers to climb the “Seven Summits,” the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, and the only sightless person in their numbers. Erik is also a para-glider, snow skier, long distance cyclist, skydiver and marathon runner. I could go on, but I don’t want to make you feel bad.

(Oh, and Sabriye and Erik are two of Oprah’s "favorite people." Yeah, now you get the gist of their greatness.)

Ok, so long story shortish: Sabriye gets the crazy idea to take a handful of the most driven kids on a climbing expedition. Maybe a just a short one. She contacts Erik, who lives in Colorado, and asks if he’s interested in heading up the adventure. Of course he says yes, and before you know it, six shy, excited and terrified students of Sabriye’s are preparing for their trip up Lhakpa Ri on the north side of Everest.

The viewer is in on the planning, the training, the conditioning, the fear and trepidation, and when the climb is finally underway, it seems impossible, like it was just a crazy idea that should never have been undertaken. Seeing Weihenmayer, from an earlier trip, climbing up a sheet of ice or traversing a crevasse (with a bottomless drop) on a wobbly ladder -- blind, remember? -- is
enough to make you hold onto your armchair or nearest loved one and not want to let go. These kids can barely walk in boots, over rocks, how in the hell are they going to climb a 23,000 foot peak?

That’s for you to find out.

This may be a little slow going for some kids. You may want to plan breaks or special treats to dangle like carrots and serve when their patience wears a little thin. Oh, there is also the matter of Life is a Bitch, Part XXII, where nobody wants you if you’re blind in places like Tibet, where they think you are possessed by demons or some equally horrid thing and you are either tethered (er, figuratively, in these particular stories) to your home without much of a future, or, worse, traded away. A western (sighted) climbing guide confesses to the camera that he’s pretty sure one kid has cigarette burns on his body, obtained during a particularly dreadful phase in his life.

That stuff may be hard on the kiddies. It will be hard on you. But it’s worth it in the end.
Think you can do it? You can. You can.

And you should.

Trailer below, and more on Erik, Sabriye and the film here.


  1. I have wanted to see this for quite a while now, you are my second friend to get me really interested in seeing it. I should get on it I suppose.

  2. Hi Nick -
    yeah, i think it's worth your time, busy as you are ... I was pretty impressed.

    Readers here should always head over to Fataculture after they're done with me!


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