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ELSA (2023)

Director: Cameron S. Mitchell

Release Date: Slamdance '23
Genre: Documentary 

"Elsa Sjunneson is a DeafBlind professor and media critic, skilled fencer and hiker, and published author who has written for Marvel Comics and won the Hugo award for Science Fiction twice. Through the pen and the sword, Elsa takes us on a journey to see the world through a perspective that's hardly, if ever, been seen before. This is the first film that PBS' American Masters has produced that solely features a contemporary DeafBlind subject."


Elsa Sjunneson is a professor. And a skilled fencer. And a hiker. And published author. And a queer rights activist. Director Cameron Mitchell spotlights her life as a main subject for the PBS American Masters documentary short, Elsa. The short, which is equally entertaining and enlightening, seems like a primer for something more. Elsa Sjunneson definitely has a lot more to say. After all, Sjunneson is also DeafBlind.


Mitchell’s Elsa gives her a fantastic, if compact, focus. He shows Elsa fencing and skiing. She beams at her opportunity to contribute to a Marvel Comics anthology. Her beliefs in advocacy are strong and true. And DeafBlind or not, Elsa Sjunneson has a life worth honoring. Mitchell provides quick highlights of it all - and all of it positive. 


As a documentary, Elsa leaves you wanting more. Questions are posed that trail off into cliffhangers. How was the reception to her Marvel story? Why did she get into fencing? And the biggest head-smacker, what everyday difficulties does she face - and overcome? Elsa misses the details of those challenges. Aside from a few morons on Twitter, Elsa does not present any substantial conflict. Sjunneson seems to be a wonderful person - and Mitchell’s expose is clearly one of success - but the Elsa short nearly extends as a checklist of accomplishments.


Yes, let’s celebrate the individual. Let’s be positive in the storytelling. But, if one was to put the disability aside, what makes Elsa Sjunneson different from anyone else who skis and hikes and reads comic books? Maybe Mitchell is saving all that for the feature length version? Let’s hope so. Because chances are, that will be spectacular.

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