A film by John Gianvito
2020, 93 minutes
No. 317

Please note: an audio description version of this film is available. It is included with any DSL purchase. To purchase it on a seperate DVD, select the desired format above.

Though her life generated voluminous literature, most people ignore the fact that iconic deaf-blind author Helen Keller (1880–1968) was one of the most passionate socialist advocates of her time. Continuing his work of patient and insightful political filmmaking, director John Gianvito (Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind) resurrects Keller's radical views, which have been largely suppressed or sanitized over the years. 

In Her Socialist Smile, he researches how, beginning in her early 30s, the pioneer leftist thinker fervently and eloquently spoke out on behalf of many progressive causes, from the rights of women and the disabled, to international socialism and world peace. Gianvito combines onscreen text taken from her most memorable public appearances, recorded voiceover by politically engaged poet Carolyn Forché, and quiet images of nature, creating another unique blend of activism, historical analysis and poetry. Reminding us that leftist struggles are inseparable from disability advocacy, Keller's words remain remarkably pertinent today.

Official Selection, New York Film Festival
Official Selection, Viennale
Winner, Open Jury Prize, Linea D’Ombra Festival

“By any reckoning, Her Socialist Smile is a beautifully executed portrait of a major figure in American intellectual history, someone whose rougher edges have been sanded away, both by the general homogenizing tendencies of time, and the inherent sexism, ableism, and anti-leftism that defines the dominant discourse in this country.” - Michael Sicinski, Mubi Notebook

"In being so text-heavy Gianvito’s film requires you to truly engage with her words and her mind. She’s been whitewashed by a conservative establishment for 100 years, and "Her Socialist Smile" is an electrifying corrective, a film that makes us work to understand what we miss when Keller’s legacy is reduced to her learning to read braille." - Scout Tafoya, Rogerebert.com

"The film is fascinating — a portrait of a woman who has little to lose and is willing to give her all for what she believes in — and an important addition to Keller’s legacy." - Alissa Wilkinson, Vox