A film by John Gianvito
2020, 93 minutes
No. 300

An experimental documentary essay on the political imagination of iconic humanitarian, author, and advocate for the blind Helen Keller. World famous by the age of 8 for having learned how to read and communicate through the finger alphabet, indelibly dramatized in William Gibson’s play The Miracle Worker, Helen Keller (1880-1968) remained for the course of her 87 years the most revered blind-deaf woman on the planet. 

Largely omitted or minimized within the voluminous literature her life generated however was the fact that Keller had become, by time she reached her thirties, a committed believer in the principles of Socialism. The product of years of research, Her Socialist Smile resurrects the radical Keller, serving as a rousing reminder that Keller’s undaunted activism for labor rights, pacifism, and women’s suffrage was philosophically inseparable from her battles for the rights of the disabled.

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