At 35, Jason DaSilva has definitely carved a name for himself as a filmmaker. With numerous award winning short films already under his belt, including Olivia’s Puzzle which qualified for an Academy Award in 2003, his most recent documentary won the Hot Docs Award at the Canadian International Film Festival last year. When I Walk is an inspiring tale of a young man’s admirable resilience and inner strength in the face of adversity – his own.
When he was 25, DaSilva was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis (MS). Described as an unpredictable and disabling disease of the central nervous system by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, MS has a number of symptoms, including difficulty in walking, deteriorating vision and loss of muscle control. In some cases, symptoms take many years to manifest but this was not true for DaSilva. When vacationing with his family in 2006, he fell down on the beach and could not get back up; his legs had stopped functioning.
“When I first fell, I realised how much worse the MS had gotten,” DaSilva says. “It completely changed the process of filmmaking for me. [I could] no longer carry a camera and shoot myself.”
However, DaSilva has not let his diagnosis stop him from pursuing his passion for filmmaking. “Now I have others to do those things [like shooting], and I am on camera more often. It’s like a different genre of documentary filmmaking,” says DaSilva.
After his discouraging fall, DaSilva made the decision to place his physical deterioration under the lens instead of ignoring it. Seven years and 3600 hours of footage later, When I Walk was released in 2013. Hailed by critics as a triumph of the human spirit and a universal tale of perseverance, the autobiographical documentary spans seven years of DaSilva’s life after his diagnosis and sheds some light on what it is like to live with MS. The film also highlights his relationship with his mother and chronicles his marriage to his co-producer Alice Cook, whom he met at an MS support group in 2009. The couple now have an 18-month-old son.
“It was very difficult to tell my own story,” DaSilva admits. “I got exhausted after about the second year...There were many times I just wanted to give up.” In his director’s statement of the film, DaSilva also writes how challenging it was for him to relinquish the camera to his family and friends and become the subject of his own film. Having been a meticulous shooter with an eye for beautiful cinematography, DaSilva shifted gears and focused on capturing emotion and compelling human moments.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, DaSilva moved to Vancouver when he was 14. He completed his undergraduate and masters at Emily Carr University, before relocating to New York City, where he currently resides. He mentions how the fast-paced city slowed down for him after his diagnosis and he could no longer keep up with friends. “Slowly but surely, the world that I knew started moving at a snail's pace,” DaSilva shares.
As his MS progressed, DaSilva went from using a cane to a motorized scooter to get around. Facing mobility challenges in New York, he was inspired to develop AXS Maps, an online tool that identifies wheelchair and scooter friendly places. This crowd-sourced platform allows users to download the application and share reviews on the accessibility of restaurants, businesses and other destinations in cities throughout North America. “It really helps people with disabilities like me, and allows for a more inclusive world,” says DaSilva.
This 35-year-old still faces daily difficulties with his condition and he must come to terms with it everyday. “Every morning when I wake, I have to remind myself that I am living in a different body that what I grew up with,” he says. But he remains optimistic about the future and powers on ahead with his film projects. His next film will be a feature set in Goa, India, that will be shot over the next two years. “I hope to move it into production in the next year, fingers crossed!” DaSilva says.
DaSilva’s story is a heroic example of persevering despite the odds. Through his deeply personal biopic, When I Walk, DaSilva shares a journey that is heart-wrenching at times, frustrating at others, but it has an underlying message everyone can learn from – of not giving up, of weathering through the uncertainties of life and triumphing over your challenges.
PHOTO: Jason DaSilva, wheniwalk.com