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Blindsight

A documentary about blind Tibetan teens climbing Everest offers more than just great scenery

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There will likely be a fresh burst of controversy from the Himalaya in the next two weeks as the Chinese try to get the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest during the narrow window in which ascents are possible. To facilitate this without protests, both sides of the mountain -- the northern Tibet route and the southern Nepal trek -- have been shut down, leaving mountaineering teams grumbling in lockdown at base camps. For a more uplifting story from the "Rooftop of the World," consider Lucy Walker's documentary about six blind teen-age trekkers from Tibet. Under the tutelage of blind American adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, the youth are trained in high-altitude climbing and paired with mountain guides. The goal: Lhakpa-Ri, a 23,000-foot sister peak of Everest. The group encounters the expected hurdles of guiding inexperienced, if game, blind kids through one of Earth's most treacherous places. However, the biggest difficulty is reconciling the goal-oriented Western go-for-it scheme with the kids' simpler, more personal and less quantifiable expectations of success. Walker's short portraits of the young climbers, depicting their unique place in an already isolated culture -- prejudice against the blind in this desperately poor region is severe -- illuminate the teens' halting explanations of self. Filmed entirely in Tibet, the film also offers spectacular scenery. Naturally, being sighted, we immediately rue that the blind climbers will never see the majestic mountains they struggle to conquer. But thanks to an illuminating last-reel scene, we realize that our reliance on sight may significantly limit how we experience the natural world. In English and Tibetan, with subtitles. Starts Fri., April 25. Harris (AH) [capsule review]

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