It would be nearly impossible to watch the documentary feature Reengineering Sam through anything but the lens of my own human experience, that of a lifelong paraplegic/double amputee born and living with spina bifida.
I mean, sure, I'm a film journalist. I'm able to watch any film, even the most deeply personal ones, through an objective critical lens that allows me to fairly and effectively evaluate the film.
But, that doesn't mean I'm not human. That doesn't mean I don't absolute love films and their power to transform lives and families and societies and our future.
That doesn't mean that there aren't times when a film hits me in the heart or hits me in the gut or somehow makes me deal with my own fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams.
Reengineering Sam is such a film. It's the kind of film that made me challenges my inherent biases, but it's also a film that tapped into my hopes and dreams, real life experiences and aching anxieties. It's the story of Sam Schmidt, who was living out his boyhood dream as an IndyCar racer, winning races and earning the title of IndyCar "Rookie of the Year" along the way, when his dream came to an abrupt end at Walt Disney World Speedway on January 6, 2000 when Sam crashed into a wall at 200 miles per hour and began living life as a quadriplegic.
Sam's accident rendered him physically dependent upon the help of others, from his wife and children to the 24/7 nurse who lives in his home and guides his daily well-being and continued drive toward as much independence as humanly possible.
There is no question, I suppose, that Sam has certain "advantages" not available to your more "ordinary" folks with disabilities, including a beautiful and accessible home, a 24/7 live-in nurse whose presence isn't dependent upon Medicaid funding, and his own connections to some of the sharpest minds in advanced technologies.
These are advantages. They were borne out of Sam's already successful life in both business and auto racing, a life he would continue to live, as much as possible, through the founding of Sam Schmidt Autosports that began after his release from the hospital and his realization that he needed to find a new passion.
So, while Schmidt's life may appear to possess uncommon advantages, the truth is that his real advantage is having a human spirit that constantly explores and constantly drives and kept driving even after his body had somehow rendered it impossible.
Indeed, the great thing about Reengineering Sam is that it lives well within the world of possibility. The film, directed by Brian Malone (Education, Inc.), honestly portrays the everyday vulnerabilities of life with quadriplegia but, rather refreshingly, doesn't condescend to it or portray those who empower Sam's daily life in an angelic manner. However, Malone also captures the reality that Schmidt has access to some of the brightest minds today that could, perhaps, build him a car that he could drive using only his head. Through groundbreaking adaptive technologies, Reengineering Sam takes the audience up close alongside Schmidt as he returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and shows the promise of freedom and mobility that he, through those perceived "advantages" may have had access to, but in reality open doors for almost anyone whose bodies require a wheelchair.
The bread and butter scenes of Reengineering Sam occur in the film's final 15-20 minutes, scenes that are intellectually awe-inspiring and emotionally resonant as Sam moves closer toward his dream, those around him respond with honesty and authenticity, and those whose lives are dedicated to advanced and adaptive technologies realize that the impossible is becoming possible. Malone closes out the film damn near perfectly, a reminder of the universality of this technology and how Schmidt's ever present passion, intelligence and, quite frankly, remarkable abilility continues to drive his life.
Reengineering Sam screens four times at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, an appropriate place for the film to have its world premiere. The world premiere is on Sunday, October 23rd at 3:15pm at AMC Castleton Square 14 with subsequent screenings on October 24th at 8pm at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12, October 25th at 12:45pm at AMC Castleton Square 14, and the final screening on October 29th at 10:45am at AMC Castleton Square 14.
For more information on the Heartland Film Festival, visit the festival's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic