Documentary filmmaker Jason DaSilva can now add winning an Emmy to his long list of accomplishments.
His film “When I Walk,” chronicling his journey with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS), took home the award for “Best Outstanding Informational Program — Long Form” last month at the 36th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards in New York City.
The film was streamed on PBS.org as part of the “POV” series.
“I can’t even describe it. It was crazy,” said DaSilva. “It was like nothing I’d even thought about, that I could even accomplish. Definitely way bigger than anything I could imagine.”
From Diagnosis to Documentary
DaSilva was diagnosed with PPMS in 2006 at the age of 25. At the time he was a rising star among independent filmmakers, with a passion for traveling the world making documentaries.
So he did what came most naturally — turning to the medium he knew best. DaSilva decided to share his struggles on film, turning the camera on himself. The most difficult part of making the film was how long it took.
“It was a seven-year documentary, so that was definitely challenging,” DaSilva told Healthline.
What kept him going, though, was “knowing that other people could learn from my triumph over tragedy. People with MS or without.”
DaSilva was still able to walk at the time of his diagnosis, but his film highlights how quickly his disease progressed.
“I just started using a cane and they’re already talking about wheelchairs,” he shares in the first few minutes of the film.
When feelings of depression about MS tug at DaSilva, his mother’s tough love has kept him grounded.
“When all else fails, there’s my mom,” he said.
In the film, his mother describes photos a friend shared of the deplorable conditions in Jakarta, Indonesia, telling him, “When you think your life is bad, think of situations like this.”
Strength of Family
During the course of the documentary, DaSilva not only shares the support of his family, he also chronicles meeting — and marrying — the love of his life and coproducer, Alice Cook, whose mother also has MS.
Together they tackle the hard questions those with MS face. With candid poignancy, they talk about intimacy, the burdens of caregiving, and their hopes for a family and future together.
Throughout the film there is a sense of urgency. DaSilva and Cook want to accomplish all they can before he loses more of his abilities to MS.
Like chameleons, they adapt to each new barrier MS presents. Using technology to their advantage, they find ways to work together on the film.
Finding an Audience
After production was complete, they still faced the challenge of getting the film in front of an audience. But they persevered and eventually “When I Walk” became an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
POV is one of PBS’s premier showcases for independent documentary films. The film was produced in partnership with the Independent Television Service.
In a chance turn of events, DaSilva himself became the focus of his own work.
“I had been working with POV on three other films prior to this one,” DaSilva said, “so we already had a good relationship.”
Although PBS didn’t initially acquire the film for broadcast, POV accepted the film at its Sundance debut.
“When they saw the film on the big screen, that’s when they took it,” said DaSilva. “But they were always supportive over the years. We had a couple of meetings about the film early on. As early as 2008 … it was on their radar.”
There’s no question that “When I Walk” places the plight of those with MS squarely in front of mainstream viewers. But DaSilva shrugs off his newfound recognition and remains grounded, insisting his advocacy work hasn’t really changed him at all. He’s just doing what he knows best.
“Filmmaking is my passion,” DaSilva resolutely states. “It’s what keeps me positive.”
Indeed it is. The sequel to “When I Walk” is already being filmed.