By Jane Kellogg Murray
It was a quote by Helen Keller that brought filmmaker Garrett Zevgetis to her former school, Perkins School for
the Blind: “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched — they must be felt with the heart.” While volunteering there, he learned that the unemployment rate for the blind was staggeringly low; only one in four are able to find employment in adulthood. But instead of making a documentary that focused on society’s failures, he chose to make a documentary about its successes. Enter Michelle Smith.
Michelle is a 20-year-old woman who lives with her mother in rural Maine. She is legally blind, diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and possesses a childlike obsession for anime, cats, and her doll collection. And just like any other young woman, she is navigating a path to independence. It is an inspiring and complex journey that took Zevgetis six years to capture, and he captures it beautifully.
Best and Most Beautiful Things will connect with audiences on an emotional level — with anyone who has struggled to find others they can relate to. In a city where the motto encourages individuality and weirdness, SXSW was an ideal festival to premiere such a poignant film.
Cinematographers Jordan Salvatoriello and Sarah Ginsburg successfully translate Michelle’s disabilities to the screen, juxtaposing in-focus footage with out-of-focus to visualize her world. It was equally important, Zevgetis noted during a Q&A with the audience after the film’s SXSW premiere, that the cinematographers were female: it allowed Michelle to open up about sensitive subjects like her sexuality in a very personal and organic way. (There is a scene in which Michelle explains to her mother, visibly uncomfortable, that she has been exploring BDSM and role-playing with her boyfriend.) “I did not know there would be kink involved when filming began,” the director noted. “But there came a point when we decided it would have been unethical to not include it.” An outcast in much of the so-called “normal” world, Michelle credits the BDSM community with introducing her to some of her closest friends.
Composer Tyler Strickland’s original score provides a beautiful soundtrack to the film’s complex subject matter. Audiences will feel overwhelmed with what they hear and what they can’t see — particularly when Michelle can’t find her backpack, or when she is searching for employment, or when she feels disconnected in the crowd watching her brother’s basketball game. But it is her indomitable spirit, her confidence, her zest for self-discovery, that will make audiences root for her success.