Darius Weems is just your average 15-year old teenager. He loves cracking jokes, kicking it with his friends, watching MTV and trying his hand at rapping from time to time. However, Darius deals with one thing on a daily basis that is far from the common teenage dilemma, Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It is a form of muscular dystrophy that is classified by the decreasing of muscle mass and function within male children.
Affecting one in 4000 kids, the disease started affecting Darius by his early teen years, restricting him to his wheelchair. But it didn’t hinder his spirit or infectious love of life. Darius has always had dreams of seeing the country; of heading west. But until his friends got together and decided to take him on the road trip of his life he’s never had this chance to.
The film Darius Goes West is the real life story of what happens when Weems’ dream finally comes true. It’s a touching documentary that digs to the root of the human spirit and exposes the lengths of compassion we as human beings are willing to go to for others. In a world of self-service it shows the potential we have for appreciating our lives by contributing to another. Along their trip to the west coast the group of friends decide to test the handicapped-accessibility of the country and find that a good portion of facilities don’t cater to people in Darius’ condition. But like most of the challenges presented on the trek, it doesn’t phase Weem’s hopeful character.
In a film that takes the young man and his friends from beaches of Panama City to the cliffs of the Grand Canyon, through the healing streets of New Orleans and across the Golden Gate Bridge, the greatest journey is the one that takes place internally. The group of young men taking Darius on this adventure, which include filmmakers Logan Smalley, John Hadden and Dylan Wilson, find that it changes their lives just as much as it does Darius’.
Darius Goes West is just as much of a journey for the audience as it is for Darius and his friends. The optimism and heart that Weems exudes is undeniable. He commands your understanding of his condition but doesn’t ask for your sympathy. The honesty in his raps, which serves as somewhat of a narrative soundtrack to the film, present an appeal to empower one’s self with the knowledge of the disease. As Darius puts it, he wants to reach the kids that don’t know who Jerry Lewis is.
The strong point in Darius Goes West is that the director, Logan Smalley, chooses not to focus on the terminal disease itself, but how the young man deals with it in such a positive way. One hundred percent of those with Duchenne muscular dystrophy die before the age of 30. Darius shows discouragement over this reality but rather chooses to use his story to insight others about it. Rarely do you see a true story on such a serious issue brought to the screen in the form of such a “feel good” film. It’s a very memorable experience and Smalley & co. have found that audiences across the country feel the same way. Furthermore, Darius Goes West has become somewhat of a festival darling, taking up honors at the Atlanta Film Festival, Omaha International Film Festival, Boston Independent Film Festival and a host of others. Darius continues to garner exposure for his cause as Smalley’s film sees continued success on its journey to more festivals, HBO and possibly a sequel.
You can learn more about the film and buy a copy of it here.
Jackson Boren is a senior at Pacific Union College and documentary filmmaker. He graduated with a degree in film & TV last year and is finishing a degree in Communications and PR & journalism this year.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/523