Monday, September 8, 2008

Darius Goes West

In 2007, Darius Goes West, a documentary made by a group of 12 young friends, came from nowhere to win a series of awards at film festivals nationwide. It sounded like an unlikely contender on paper, with an unknown crew and minimal funding, but its incredible heart and unbeatable energy proved to be a winning combination. Its focus was 15-year old Darius Weems, who had never left his hometown of Athens, Georgia because he was confined to a wheelchair by Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the disease that had already claimed his older brother's life. In his Freshman summer, together with 11 friends, he made a journey in an RV across the US, aiming for Los Angeles and the MTV studios, where he wanted to have his wheelchair 'pimped' on MTV's Pimp My Ride. The documentary records their journey, and doubles as an analysis of the wheelchair accessibility of the US.

Winning over audiences and juries at national and international film festivals, Darius Goes West was the most highly praised documentary of 2007. While the publicity helped with achieving their goal, that was not what the 12 young men were after: they wanted to raise money for research into a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Now in 2008, they have announced their new goal for the documentary: they want to use the DVD sales to raise $17 million for Duchenne research.

You didn't read that incorrectly: I did say $17 million. These 12 lads, who have already proven that they can make an incredible piece of cinema, are now going to prove that it can be used to make a difference in the world.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic condition that causes the muscles to waste away. It tends to affect boys, with its onset in the first six years of their lives. It weakens the child until he needs a wheelchair, and continues to affect all the muscles. It is 100% fatal, and has been labeled the number 1 genetic killer of children in the world. The average life expectancy of a Duchenne sufferer is 20 years. At the time of writing, Darius Weems is 19, and currently on the road, promoting the DVD and this huge charity action in schools around the US.

The math is simple. A copy of Darius Goes West costs $20. In the next 12 months, the money from every single copy that is sold will be split two ways: $17 will go to Duchenne muscular dystrophy research, and $3 will go to making new DVDs. If 1 million copies can be sold, that's $17 million for Duchenne research.

This is the trailer for the documentary, which also serves as advertising for the charity action.

Darius Goes West was a labor of love, and you can see that love in every scene. This charity action is also an act of life-affirming love. Darius Weems' legacy to the world will be to have put a cure for his condition within researchers' reach. I believe they can do it.

Support: I am donating all the money I earn this week from my blog Rolling Traveler to the Darius Goes West: The Vehicle project. If you want to help, visit Rolling Traveler once a day every day between now and next Monday evening; all the traffic-generated revenue will be donated to Duchenne muscular dystrophy research.

Further links:

Scenes from Darius’ graduation ceremony intercut with scenes from the movie. Call me soft, but I have cried every time I’ve watched this.

The Graduation

The Darius Goes West Official Site

The Darius Goes West Store


alex-ness said...

wow, Derek you are the man!

Derek Handley said...

No, these guys are the real princes. I'm just passing on the word and doing the little I can.

devil said...

and now for something completely different...

it really took me a few years to get you, Derek... ;-) Please drop me a line, you'll find an email address on


PS sorry for using your blog to contact you but it would really be great to hear from you.