Documents Blind Tibetan Teens' Everest Peak Bid

Seven-summit blind mountain-climber Erik Weihenmayer leads six Tibetan teenagers, also blind, in this documentary by Lucy Walker on the teens' attempt to climb Mount Everest's Lhakpa-Ri Peak.
Review by Tasha Robinson, Chicago Tribune
Anyone who has read the likes of Jon Krakauer’s best-seller “Into Thin Air” is likely to be fascinated—and maybe horrified—by the documentary “Blindsight,” in which a cadre of experienced climbers take six blind teenagers up a 23,000-foot mountain in the shadow of Mt. Everest. The climbers face the hazards Krakauer describes in gory detail—high-altitude sickness, impaired judgment from lack of oxygen, hypothermia, exhaustion, nausea, dehydration and more—all while walking blind through ragged, hazardous, unfamiliar terrain.

Worse yet, they brave the danger of justifying their culture’s attitudes toward the blind. Even some of the kids’ parents fully expect them to fail.

In her follow-up to 2002’s award-winning Amish documentary “Devil’s Playground,” director Lucy Walker shows how Tibetan attitudes toward blindness—often considered a mark of demon possession, or a sinful past life—can be more of a handicap than blindness itself. The six teenagers, ages 14 through 19, largely escaped miserable home lives and crushing prejudice via Tibet’s first school for the blind, founded by blind German activist Sabriye Tenberken. One amiable boy, Tashi, was sold into slavery as a professional beggar. Another, Gyenshen, spent years hidden in a back room because his family was ashamed of him. Walker addresses their stories with unsentimental frankness, observing their home and school life with journalistic detachment rather than trying to frame them into a slick affirmation story.

Reading a news story about a blind American who successfully reached the summit of Everest, Tenberken contacted the climber, Erik Weihenmayer, who suggested the mountain trip up Lhakpa Ri as a confidence-builder. “Blindsight” follows him, his team of guides and the students and teachers on their trip, but the film is more about life in Tibet for the blind and misconceptions about the limitations of blindness in general, than about one mountain.

Their story is deeply involving, all the more so because it isn’t simple or straightforward. The guides don’t always come across positively; they seem more driven to get to the top than to let their students enjoy the experience, which leads to fights with Tenberken. The film is often breathtakingly beautiful, and even as the students triumph over the naysayers, it’s melancholy knowing they aren’t sharing viewers’ experiences of their starkly gorgeous world, from the grim, memorial-lined stretch of Everest Base Camp to the vast primeval terrain of Lhakpa Ri.

“Blindsight” could use a stronger sense of focus; there are so many people involved that most of them blur together. Tenberken and Weihenmayer are amazing figures who deserve their own documentaries, but they get lost among all the other stories—including a touching but questionably relevant trip to find Tashi’s long-lost family.

The film could also stand to be braver about addressing its own core questions. Were, as the film circuitously implies, mistakes in judgment made along the way? Why take Tenberken’s students on such a potentially dangerous trek? What did they want to accomplish, and what did they learn? Even the kids are vague on these issues.

But “Blindsight” remains as enthralling for its insights into the character of climbers for its exploration of specific lives and current attitudes in Tibet. As with “Devil’s Playground,” Walker is admirably restrained, showing her young subjects with affection, but without romanticizing or editorializing. Her willingness to show the trip with all its troubles intact makes the film far more inspirational than it would be as a simple feel-good movie about overcoming adversity. And it’s certainly a good sign when the worst thing that can be said about a film is that it could stand to be three separate movies, each of which would probably be as absorbing as this one.


Sponsored by Children, Youth, and Environments

Thu November 13, 2008, 7:00 & 9:00, Muenzinger Auditorium

UK, 2006, in Tibetan, Color, 104 min | Canada:104 min (Toronto International Film Festival), Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild language., 1.85 : 1 • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Wed Sep 27, 2023

Thank You for Smoking

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Sat Oct 28, 2023


At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...