Early on in Jason DaSilva's new documentary, "When I Walk," the Fort Lauderdale native is vacationing in the Caribbean in 2006, watching airplanes soar over the beach, when his legs crumple. His brother holds a camera on DaSilva, who struggles but fails to stand. The first physical symptoms of primary-progressive multiple sclerosis were manifesting.
So began DaSilva's decision to scrupulously document his life and creeping immobility for the film, which will have its national television premiere Monday night on PBS stations. Over a seven-year period, DaSilva's camera lingers on the rapid deterioration of his leg muscles and motor speech, as he adapts to a walking cane, then a walker, and then, finally, a power chair.
"It still surprises me to this day how fast my body just stopped working," says DaSilva, now 35 and living in Brooklyn with his wife, Alice, whom he met at an MS support group. "When I wake up, I sometimes forget how bad my body is, and then it hits me that I can't move."
Between the ages of 5 and 14, DaSilva grew up near Davie Boulevard west of I-95 and attended Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic School, spending free time sketching comic-book illustrations. Although he abandoned fine art for filmmaking, his drawings appear in the film as nods to his childhood, and as placeholders for scenes that cannot be filmed. For example, a low-risk procedure in 2010 to stretch his neck's muscle nerves is illustrated with animated drawings of DaSilva lying flat on an operating chair.
"I had no sense of what the story or outcome was when I started, only that the subject should be me," DaSilva says. "Even when I got depressed, I had my mom and Alice with me as a major support system."
"When I Walk" will premiere 11 p.m. Monday on WPBT-Ch. 2 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and at 10 p.m. Monday on WXEL-Ch.42 in Palm Beach County.