I recently judged some films for the Mountain Film Awards, and I’m glad I did. I got to see a number of great shorts and features. Two documentaries really stood out from the pack; one quirky and one that is simply amazing. The quirky one is out in theaters. The amazing one isn’t yet and that’s a shame. Hopefully that will change shortly.
“Dumbstruck” is the one out in theaters. I thought it was goofy and sweet. It’s about ventriloquists, or “vents” as they call themselves. The film features Terry Fator, who won “America’s Got Talent” and parlayed that into a gig as a Vegas headliner and a $100 million dollar contract.
That’s an amazing achievement that the other vents in the film can only dream about. Most of them don’t even think about getting rich. They just want to be able to make a living doing what they love. It’s heartbreaking to see one of the vents, Kimberly Yeager Miller, try desperately to get an audition on a cruise ship.
Meanwhile, Dan Horn, a veteran vent who’s been working the cruise lines for years is seeing his marriage fall apart because he’s never home. That’s where this movie really shines. It’s not just about ventriloquism. It’s about people trying to make their dreams come true, however grand or modest those dreams are. Not everyone makes it, but those that do provide hope for the rest.
“Dumbstruck” was good but the documentary that totally blew me away is the one that isn’t in theaters yet but really, really deserves to be seen. It’s called “Out of the Darkness.” The folks at the Mountain Festival appear to have agreed with me because they awarded it the Jury Prize. There have been a lot of films with the title “Out of the Darkness,” but none are like this film.
“Out of the Darkness” follows Dr. Sanduk Ruit of Nepal and his Cure Blindness initiative. Simple cataract surgery that we take for granted in the West isn’t readily available in developing countries. As a result there are many cases of preventable blindness in Nepal especially in the rural, mountainous countryside. As this movie makes very clear, being blind in such a country is practically a death sentence.
The movie follows Dr. Ruit and his team as they try to bring aid to those that desperately need it. Intraocular lens implants are expensive, so Dr. Ruit has set up a lab inside Nepal to manufacture them. But making the artificial lenses is nothing compared to transporting them. The mountainous countryside makes travel from village to village a challenge to even the able bodied. It’s impossible for most patients to make it to the city for treatment.
Many of them have already begun to lose their vision and some are completely blind already. So Ruit and his team have to carry their equipment into the mountains and visit these remote villages themselves.
It’s an adventure worthy of Kipling but it’s all real. The landscape is awe inspiring and dangerous. The equipment and supplies are bulky, heavy, and delicate. And when Ruit and his people arrive at a village they have to improvise an operating theater there. Most of these places have only the barest of essentials, clean water and maybe electricity. Once they set up and prepare to operate then the drama goes to a whole new level.
I won’t spoil it (anymore than I already have) but the climax is nerve-wracking.
“Out of the Darkness” does not have a release date in this country yet. It’s currently making the festival tour. If you get a chance, see it. It’s an amazing film about an amazing man doing something very important in the world. It should be seen, if only for a week or two in L.A., New York and Chicago. This would make every critic’s Top 10 list if it did.