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10 Filmmakers to Watch in 2013: Jason DaSilva

“It was kind of like an art project”, says writer/director Jason DaSilva as he recollects the beginnings of his feature documentary, When I Walk. DaSilva, diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2005, shares his day-to-day efforts as he slowly transformed from able-bodied to disabled, in his personal and often intimate documentary.

DaSilva is a filmmaker, an animator, and an app producer. His filmmaking career preceded his diagnosis with Lest We Forget and shorts First Steps, Twins of Mankala, A Song for Daniel, and Olivia’s Puzzle, which screened at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. When I Walk screened at Sundance 2013 to a packed and enthusiastic crowd. It took home Best Canadian Feature Documentary Award, at Hot Docs, also in 2013.

DaSilva says he considered whether or not this autoimmune disease taking control of his body would be an interesting story. “I didn’t have the intention of wanting to show this to the world. I thought wouldn’t it be interesting if I just filmed myself going from a cane to a walker, losing the ability to walk? Would that be an interesting story?” DaSilva worked on the film for eight years, chronicling not only his changing body, but his changing life – in good ways and bad.

DaSilva shares an interesting reality, “Even to this day very few people ask me about what that was like. That’s why I did the film. I want people to at least see what it’s like.” When I Walk reveals a frustrating and humbling experience that many of us fail to consider.

Much of his story in When I Walk is told with his producing partner and wife, Alice Cook, who now plays a big role in DaSilva’s life and career.

“People with disabilities deserve to have their stories told and that’s my intention, as a person with a disability, is to tell the story honestly and to show the dynamics of them,” DaSilva says.

The film also reveals the barriers someone in a wheelchair or a scooter encounters to get around and how inaccessible everyday life can be. Even just one stair into anywhere is equivalent to ‘ACCESS DENIED.’ With this, DaSilva thought of an idea—“What if everyone could share all the accessible places they know and it was all put on to one map?”

In 2012, DaSilva created AXS Map, funded by Google Charitable Giving, among other funders. AXS Map is a free-to-use online and mobile app, where anyone can give ratings and reviews of the accessibility at a variety of different places making the world more inclusive.

The New York Times commissioned DaSilva for a OpDoc about navigating around New York City as a disabled person in a scooter. As DaSilva shows, planning a route in his hometown of Brooklyn is more complicated than one may think and New York City often lacks proficiency for disabled-friendly transportation alternatives, such as no elevators down to the subway or finding a wheelchair accessible cab.

As for DaSilva’s projects for 2013. “I want to do a film all about accessibility and accessibility in New York specifically. I’m getting geared up for that.” When asked the anticipation of completion, DaSilva says jokingly, “It will be long, but hopefully it’s not eight years like this.”

To learn more about When I Walk, visit www.wheniwalk.com.

See images and drawings from the app AXS Map, on The Independent’s Facebook page.

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