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Films highlight journeys to overcome adversity

Michelle Smith in “Best and Most Beautiful Things.”Sarah Ginsburg/First Run Features/First Run Features

Garrett Zevgetis’s “Best and Most Beautiful Things” tells the story of Michelle Smith, a young woman from Maine whose life has had its share of troubles. Her younger brother died as a child. Her parents divorced when she was 13. And she is legally blind and diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.

Many young people with far less to deal with have had trouble making the transition to adulthood, but Smith (who is 22 at the conclusion of the film) perseveres, and finds in her differences strength, and in the challenges to her independence ways to achieve freedom and individuality.


Living in rural Maine, Smith did not have a community that she felt she belonged to until she attended the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. There she learned skills, developed friendships, and received guidance from teachers and counselors. But when she graduated, she returned to the uncertainties of a world where she was regarded as abnormal or incapable and which offered few opportunities for employment or advancement. She felt bereft, but then found kinship and a means of expression from an unexpected source.

It’s not an easy road, and it takes some abrupt turns. Zevgetis shows restraint in telling the tale, relating the narrative without intruding on it, employing dramatic ellipses, subtle suspense, and evocative imagery. He allows both Smith and her struggling, supportive mother to relate the ups and downs of her path. Smith’s spirit is charismatic and unbreakable.

The title of the film comes from Helen Keller’s statement that “the best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt by the heart.” By the end of this film, your heart will have had a workout.

“Best and Most Beautiful Things is available on iTunes. It will premiere on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on Jan. 2 at 10 p.m.


For more information go to www.bestandmostbeautiful

Far from home

As most Americans enjoy their holidays, millions flee turmoil in their homelands. Beginning in 2011, the greatest migration crisis since the end of World War II has resulted in untold misery and divisive political challenges.

James Bluemel’s documentary “Exodus” lets several of these unfortunates tell their own stories, often through smartphone and video footage they have taken themselves. They come from Syria, Gambia, Afghanistan, and other stricken countries. Thousands die crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, and many of those who survive end up in the limbo of wretched detention camps.

They are people like us, who have undergone trauma that few of us can imagine. See “Exodus” on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS’s “Frontline,” or stream it for free at pbs.org/frontline.

For more information go to www.pbs.org/frontline/exodus.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.