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Jason DaSilva (born July 26, 1978) is a director, producer, writer and disability rights activist best known for the Emmy Award winning documentary, When I Walk. The Emmy award winning film follows his diagnosis of primary progressive multiple sclerosis for seven years as he progresses from cane, to walker, to wheelchair. He is also the founder of the non-profit organization AXS Lab and of AXS Map, a crowd sourced Google map based platform which rates the accessibility of businesses.
DaSilva was born in Dayton, Ohio, United States, the older brother of siblings Leigh and Daniel. His mother Marianne D’Souza grew up in Nakuru, Kenya, and is of Goan descent. She came to the United States to go to New York University in 1970. DaSilva’s father, Ed DaSilva, whose family is also from Goa, lived in Uganda but moved to Ohio to go to the University of Dayton. DaSilva’s family later moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, before ultimately moving to Vancouver, Canada.
DaSilva went to high school at South Delta Secondary School. He was active in art and music and won a Delta Arts Council award that sent him to Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver
Canada for his undergraduate degree. In 2006, he took a break from filmmaking to earn his MFA in Applied Media Arts from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, where he received a full scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
At age 23, DaSilva made his first published film, a short documentary called Olivia's Puzzle. The film explored the lives of two eight year-old girls of Indian descent, one living in North America and one living in India. Olivia's Puzzle premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was broadcast on PBS/POV, HBO and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and qualified for the Academy Awards. When the Iraqi war started in 2004, DaSilva created a short documentary entitled A Song For Daniel, comparing the lives of two Iraqi boys - one living on Long Island, New York and the other in Baghdad, Iraq. The film addressed the theme of ethnic identity retention, and how one’s relationship to their home country changes with sociopolitical events, in this case the war between the U.S. and Iraq. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was shown on PBS/POV. His next film Twins of Mankala showed the disparities of growing up Kenyan in a village versus Lowell, Massachusetts. On his next film, DaSilva worked with Asian, Arab and Muslim service agencies to tell the story of people targeted after 9/11 in his film Lest We Forget.
Diagnosis and When I Walk
When he was 25 years old, DaSilva was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (PPMS). PPMS is an accelerated form of multiple sclerosis that has a steady worsening of symptoms with no relapses or remissions. There are currently no approved medications or treatments for PPMS.
In 2006, DaSilva decided to document his challenges as a filmmaker living with a degenerative neurological disease. His work became the documentary film “When I Walk,” an autobiographical portrait of DaSilva's struggles with multiple sclerosis and day-to-day life while losing the ability to walk over a seven-year period. When I Walk premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and was a Critics Pick in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Village Voice. It was
released theatrically and broadcast as the opening film for the 2014 season on the POV strand of PBS, received numerous awards and is now available for viewing on Netflix. In 2015, When I Walk won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form, News & Documentary.
As depicted in When I Walk, DaSilva met Alice Cook in 2010 at a multiple sclerosis support group. The couple married in 2011 and had a son, Jase DaSilva, in 2012. They are now divorced.
AXS Lab and AXS Map
Realizing he was in a unique position as a film director with a disability, DaSilva also created a non-profit organization in 2008 called AXS Lab, Inc, whose mandate is to serve those with disabilities through the arts, media, and technology. In 2011, DaSilva created the new media project called AXS Map that
encourages communities to share reviews on the accessibility of businesses, restaurants and other public places.
When We Walk and present
DaSilva is currently working on his follow-up film to When I Walk called When We Walk. The film explores his relationship with his son and how accessibility comes into play when considering how DaSilva will be able to spend time with his son as he grows up. The film has received a media arts grant from the Canada Council Of the Arts and is scheduled for release in 2016.
DaSilva continues to grow his media project AXS Map. Throughout the world, in different cities, there are scheduled mapping events, “Mapathons,” taking place that allow people to create a map for people with disabilities.
DaSilva continues working while his health rapidly worsens. He has lost ability to use his hands properly, his vision is poor (he is now legally blind), and his upper body has greatly weakened. This has moved him towards looking at adaptation and assistive devices for people with disabilities. DaSilva continues to develop and create stories that center around the themes of disability, health and social inclusion in a more authentic matter in order to help provide a positive social change surrounding the subjects in the future.
Awards and honors
- Person of the Year Award– New Mobility Magazine 2014
- Digi Award 2014
- American Association for People with Disabilities Paul E. Hearn Award 2014
- Peek Award for Disability in Film 2014
- Canada Telefilm CMF Experimental Stream Recipient 2012
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Award 2007
- Emerging Innovator Award- Canada New Media Awards 2007
- Emily Award for Outstanding Alumnus 2005
- IFP Project Involve MacArthur Fellowship 2005
- Trailblazer Achievement Award- Reel World Film Festival 2004
- Peace and Racial Justice Fund 2004
- Paul Robeson Fund 2004
- Winner, Emmy Award, “When I Walk,” Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form, News & Documentary, 2015
- Winner, Best Canadian Documentary and Audience Award - Global Visions Film Festival 2014, “When I Walk”
- Winner, Best Canadian Feature - Hot Docs 2013, “When I Walk”
- Winner, Audience Award - Vancouver Int'l Film Festival 2013, “When I Walk”
- Winner, Innovation Award - Topanga Film Festival 2013, “When I Walk”
- Winner, Grand Jury Prize - Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2013, “When I Walk”
- Winner, Best Short IIAC Film Festival, “Olivia’s Puzzle”
- Winner, Best Documentary, Chicago International Film Festival, “Olivia’s Puzzle”
- Winner, Best Documentary, Reel2Reel Film Festival