Best and Most Beautiful Things
A film by Jordan Salvatoriello and Garrett Zevgetis
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” — Helen Keller
BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a feature documentary about Michelle Smith, a legally blind student at the esteemed Perkins School outside Boston. Following in the footsteps of famed alumna Helen Keller, Michelle leaves behind a troubled past and confronts both her physical and emotional challenges. With the encouragement of English teacher, Jeff Migliozzi, Michelle struggles to learn to trust her own voice, and gain the confidence to embrace an independent life. Using the inspired words in Helen Keller’s essay, “Three Days to See,” as a structural and metaphorical tool, our story reveals an insularity to human perception and attempts to re-establish a common humanity. Along her journey, Michelle traverses the murky waters between darkness and light, fear and hope, discovering the beauties of the wider world and learning what it truly means to “see.”
In her 1933 essay Helen Keller describes what she would like to see if she were given her sight for just three days. In 2011, 18-year-old Michelle Smith, who is legally blind and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, ponders this very question in her classroom in her final year of studies before graduation from Perkins School for the Blind.
At age 14, Michelle tried hard to fit in, but struggled in public school and suffered at the hands of school bullies. When her 5-year-old brother Mitchell passed away, her family was ripped apart by a bitter divorce. Plagued by anxiety and an increasingly debilitating sense of failure, Michelle courageously demands to leave her home in rural Maine and follow in the footsteps of Helen Keller at Perkins School for the Blind.
After a rocky start at Perkins, Michelle finally finds friends who accept her and a teacher named Jeff Migliozzi who, through the teachings of Helen Kellers inspired essay, emboldens Michelle to believe she is in control of her own destiny. Michelle becomes one of the first students in Jeff’s groundbreaking film class for the blind, with guest instructor Kevin Bright, creator of TV’s Friends. Jeff, who is also blind, experiences a watershed classroom moment with Michelle while studying Hamlet, a turning point for both student and teacher.
Through their discussions, we consider the blindness that can befall all of humanity and contemplate a new definition of success that does not center around society’s expectations.
With Jeff’s guidance and a staff dedicated to supporting her, Michelle gains confidence and blossoms at Perkins. However, with graduation fast approaching, Michelle surprises her advisors and family when the question of college is raised. With the looming reality of returning to life in a sighted world, Michelle finds herself once again wrestling with her greatest fear – the fear of failure.
Seventy-nine years ago famed author and Perkins most famous student, Helen Keller, penned the essay “Three Days to See,” providing a light of hope in the dark days of the Great Depression. Today, amid one of the worst economic downturns since the 1930s crisis, the unemployment rate for people who are blind has reached a dizzying high of 80 percent.
In this time of growing disillusionment, over-diagnoses, over-medication and broken homes, Michelle Smith’s beautiful story of triumph over adversity – through an education focused on empowerment, discovery and possibility – can advance disabled rights by revealing a common humanity, one that Helen Keller underscores in her own work. Sight is more than just a tool of convenience, but a means of discovering a world of delicate intricacies that we often take for granted. The film BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS provides us with much needed perspective, and reminds us to make the most of every sense and every experience.