DARK SHADOWS AND BEYOND – THE JONATHAN FRID STORY (2021, doc)

October 15, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Director Mary O’Leary’s cold opening replays the scene in the “Dark Shadows” TV series where Barnabas Collins, a 175 year old vampire, makes his first appearance. Fans of the gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 through 1971 know Barnabas first appeared months after the series premiered. The reminiscing is welcome and smile-inducing, but we must also recall that this vampire changed everything for those involved … especially actor Jonathan Frid.

This documentary plays like a loving tribute to Ms. O’Leary’s friend, colleague, and former business partner, and by the end credits, we fully understand why. We learn Mr. Frid was not only popular with fans, but well-liked and respected by his fellow actors in a career that spanned 70 years, considering he began acting in high school. We hear from his Yale Drama School classmate (renowned Talk Show host) Dick Cavett, as well as many from the “Dark Shadows” production, including: David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Lee Scott, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace, James Storm, John Karlen, and series creator Dan Curtis. Additional insight and recollections are provided by fellow Shakespearean actor Anthony Zerbe, and Christina Pickles, Frid’s castmate from Oliver Stone’s first feature (horror) film, SEIZURE (1972).

Many only know Dark Shadows from the 2012 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, but the original series ran for 1225 episodes and still enjoys a cult following even today. The series was responsible for spin-offs including theatrical movies, an additional series in the 90’s, novels, comics, radio broadcasts, and even a board game. Jonathan Frid’s final appearance was at the 45th anniversary festival, which co-star David Selby remembers fondly here.

While the focus is understandably on Mr. Frid’s iconic portrayal of Barnabas, director O’Leary (a producer of the 2019 documentary, MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS) also provides us a bit of his family tree with interviews from his nephews, and a recap of his life: his stint in the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII, drama school (with Cavett and Katharine Hepburn), voice lessons, and the personal letters Frid wrote to his parents – read here by actor Ian Buchannan. We also see some terrific photos and clips of Frid’s early work on stage … where he felt most at home.

Much of the archival footage finds him sporting the infamous ring from the show and the wolf’s head cane that became a highlight on its own. Although Frid had very few screen credits, we see what a full life and career he had, including years of ‘Reading Theater’ where he utilized that magnificent voice. Jonathan Frid passed away in 2012 at age 87, but his legacy as Barnabas Collins seems eclipsed only by his life of grace and kindness.

Arrived October 5, 2021 on Digital Platforms, DVD and Blu-ray

from MPI Home Video

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CAT DADDIES (2021, doc)

October 14, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There are so many ways to divide the world, but few lines of demarcation are clearer than ‘dog people’ versus ‘cat people’. Being firmly planted in the former group, while being confounded by the latter, it was for edification purposes that I agreed to watch Mye Hoang’s documentary. We got off to a rocky start when a Mark Twain quote popped up: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.” Nope, Mr. Twain and I will simply disagree on this.

We are all too familiar with “crazy cat lady” syndrome – an often reclusive, usually elderly woman, whose love of cats has resulted in a veritable feline zoo in her home. The memes are all over social media, and they are usually good for a chuckle and a cringe. But what about the stereotype of men and cats? In the 1970’s and 80’s the catchphrase was “Real men don’t eat quiche”, and there was even a (comical) best-selling book by that title. But men with cats … well that’s a stereotype that never needed a book. Even many women shy away from the guy with a cat. It’s this baggage and history that inspired Ms. Hoang to explore the topic. Well that, plus her own husband’s personality shift associated with a cat.

The filmmaker first introduces us to “Nathan the cat lady”, which is how he’s known to his 300,000 Instagram followers. He’s an actor and has 4 cats, each of whom play into his popular, often humorous posts. But it’s not all fun and games for Ms. Hoang. As she shifts from California to New York City, the camera turns to David, a homeless immigrant and former construction worker. David’s story is the most poignant, and actually seems a bit out of place with the other 8 subjects in the film. In fact, David and his cat and his story could easily have been the focus of an interesting documentary short.

“Real men” and their cats make up most of the rest of the film. A fireman, long-haul trucker, trainer/stuntman, and avid hiker are included. Each offers up a tale of how their own mental well-being was transformed by their pet cat. There is also a segment on a non-profit cat rescuer whose mission is to minimize the number of stray cats strutting aimlessly. Perhaps these stories resonate a bit more as we approach two years on the pandemic calendar. One thing is certain, in a purr-fect world, cat ladies will now share the market with cat daddies.

The film had its World premiere at the 2021 Dallas International Film Festival, and will be featured at several other film festivals prior to year-end.

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CLEANIN’ UP THE TOWN: REMEMBERING GHOSTBUSTERS (2021, doc)

September 30, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. For fans of the 1984 megahit GHOSTBUSTERS, this is the ultimate gift from the brother and sister filmmaking team of Anthony Bueno and Claire Bueno. It’s a deep cut “making of” feature that takes us behind the scenes for a detailed explanation of just how this comedy-horror-science fiction film made it to the big screen, became such a huge hit, and has maintained such an enduring impact.

If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the story, you’ll be surprised to learn that Dan Aykroyd’s great-grandfather was both a dentist and a dedicated researcher of psychic phenomena and the paranormal. This documentary is filled with surprises and insider scoops on everything from the development of the script, the assembling of the crew, the craziness of the special effects team, and finalizing the cast. What makes this different from other ‘movies about movies’ is that many of the talking heads here are the crew and technicians from whom we rarely have access. There are even segments on the iconic logo and the popular theme song (“Who you gonna call?”).

Of course we also get interviews from the cast, including Aykroyd, Harold Ramis (who passed away in 2014), Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver. Mr. Hudson and Ms. Weaver are especially forthcoming – he about how his role as Winston was reduced at the last minute, and she about her audition and game-changing idea for her character Dana, a role she compared to the great Margaret Dumont. Many of the secondary characters offer insight as well, including Alice Drummond, Annie Potts, and William Atherton, the latter since stuck with a not-so-flattering nickname.

Director Ivan Reitman recollects many of the challenges, not the least of which were an incredibly tight time line for what was actually an experimental film for the times. They were given one year to formulate a script, secure the locations, finalize the costumes, film the gags, and create the ‘monsters’. The famed NYC Firehouse was used for the exterior shots, though a Firehouse in Los Angeles (built in the same year) was used for internal scenes. But the real fun here is supplied by the crew, eager to tell their own stories. The creation of Slimer, with John Belushi eyebrows, is taken from sketch to final. There is an extended sequence on the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the challenges incurred. Ray Parker Jr discusses his rapid work on the theme song, and we even learn about the siren on Ecto-1, the Ghostbusters iconic vehicle.

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, the sequel to the 1984 original hits theaters this fall, and the sibling Buenos even have a documentary in the works for the GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989). It’s disappointing that neither Bill Murray nor Rick Moranis were interviewed for the film, and it’s really sad to learn that the salary demands of the great John Candy kept him from appearing in the original film (in the role ultimately owned by Moranis). Sure, we miss hearing the theme song, but this documentary is everything fans of the 1984 comedy masterpiece could want. And you’ll have to watch if you want to know the importance of the leopard howl.

In theaters October 1, 2021 and On Demand October 5.

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THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (2021, doc)

September 26, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. In 1971, renowned Italian film director Luchino Visconti announced he had cast “the most beautiful boy in the world” as Tadzio in his new film, DEATH IN VENICE. Co-directors Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri document the story of how Bjorn Andresen’s life took him from beautiful to broken. It’s a tragic tale of how adults wrecked a young man’s shot at happiness.

The directors do not shy away from showing both sides of Bjorn – then and now. Clips from his audition for Visconti include a creepy photo shoot where 15 year old Bjorn is asked to bare his torso. Two things are clear: the youngster is quite uncomfortable, and he’s truly beautiful by most anyone’s standards (except for the “Eye of the Beholder” episode of The Twilight Zone). Modern day Bjorn sports the scars of life. Deep facial wrinkles are the price of decades of smoking cigarettes. A long gray mane of hair punctuated with heavy facial hire help hide what was once a beautiful boy from the world.

When we first meet Bjorn, he’s living in a filthy (truly disgusting) apartment and facing eviction. His girlfriend Jessica helps him clean the place, preventing him from having to move from his home of many years. Over the course of the documentary, we hear from Bjorn’s sister, a friend of his mothers, his Governess, Casting Director Margareta Krantz, and Bjorn’s daughter Robine. We learn of many tragic experiences Bjorn endured. These include his mother, an unknown father, his misguided Granny, and his 10 month old son. Beyond all of these unfortunate elements, we simply can’t shake the creepiness of Bjorn’s first meeting with director Visconti.

Exploitation is the best word I can come up with – not just for the audition and photo shoot, but also the subsequent marketing appearances at film festivals. DEATH IN VENICE (based on the Thomas Mann novel) has long been entrenched in gay cinema lore, and in the movie, Tadzio (played by Bjorn) is the object of an older man’s desire. Knowing what we do of Visconti, and seeing what we do in the audition clips, our mind goes places we would rather it not.

Bjorn Andresen is an unusual subject to choose for a documentary, and not much time is spent on the adult life of the now 66 year old man. Connecting the dots of the tragedies in his life makes his current situation understandable, but this is a man who has taught music and continued to periodically act … he has a memorable scene in the recent MIDSOMMAR (2019), yet his demeanor and physical appearance leave us seeing a shell of a man. This is certainly not an uplifting profile, but the cautionary tales are plentiful.

In theaters September 24, 2021

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BORIS KARLOFF: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER (2021, doc)

September 16, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a rare occurrence, but every once in a while subduing my internal fanboy is a bit of a challenge. A documentary on the career of the great Boris Karloff certainly is one of those times. Mesmerized by the Universal monster films as a kid, Karloff’s appearances continued to have a hypnotic effect on me throughout his career … a career that spanned fifty years and ended only with his death in 1969. Of course Christmas time each year returns Karloff back into our homes through his Grammy-winning voice acting in “Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Somewhat oddly, director Thomas Hamilton chooses to open the film discussing Karloff’s work in Mario Bava’s 1963 film BLACK SABBATH. Contemporary horror master Guillermo del Toro (THE SHAPE OF WATER, PAN’S LABYRINTH) comments that the film heavily influenced his own CRONOS (1993). It may be an unusual opening segment to kick off a discussion of Karloff’s career, but understanding his stature and influence is really the legacy – it goes much deeper than his iconic Frankenstein monster. The opening credits are played over a stream of stunning chalk/graphite drawings of Karloff’s many characters.

Some of the key interviews are conducted with film historians; film directors del Toro, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, and John Landis; actors Caroline Munro, Christopher Plummer, and Dick Miller; and Karloff’s own daughter, Sara, who is now at an age her father never saw. For the most part, we go chronologically through Karloff’s career with commentary on each of the key roles and films. The vintage footage brings back many memories and is a blast to watch – likely aided significantly by movie memorabilia collector and Karloff expert Ron MacCloskey (the film’s co-writer). Karloff’s physical presence on screen is noted on multiple occasions, as is his ability to emote, even through heavy makeup.

Obviously it’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931) that elevated Karloff from a character actor to a star. Although surprisingly, the man himself credits Howard Hawks’ THE CRIMINAL CODE (1930) as his big break. The following year, after the success of DRACULA with Bela Lugosi, Universal put Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” on the fast track and assigned James Whale to direct. Going against conventional wisdom, Whale decided not to cast Lugosi, and instead went with Karloff … in hindsight, a decision that looks brilliant. We hear about the makeup genius Jack Pierce, who worked with Karloff’s facial features in creating the now iconic look of the monster. Pierce had made an early name for himself with his work on THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), and then spent nearly two decades creating the now familiar Universal monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and of course, Elsa Lanchester’s Bride in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).

The film spends very little time on Karloff’s personal life, though it mentions his six marriages, his participation in the formation of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and his at-times debilitating back pain. He often wore a metal leg brace for stability and balance, and for those who only know him as the monster and the Grinch, the segments on his later career will likely be enlightening. Karloff loved live theater and received acclaim for his stage work in “Arsenic and Old Lace”. Daughter Sara confirms that he embraced television from the early days, and director Hamilton includes a clip of an elderly Karloff acting in a comedy skit with two other greats, Red Skelton and Vincent Price. As a fan, I truly appreciate some of Karloff’s work in his final 10-12 years, including “Shock” theater, the “Thriller” series, and Roger Corman’s THE RAVEN (1963). Beyond all of Karloff’s exceptional work through multiple mediums (including children’s book series), and that instantly recognizable face and voice, it’s his monster’s initial entrance onto the screen that remains one of the truly iconic moments in film history – even 90 years later.

The film is scheduled for a rolling release beginning September 17, 2021 and carrying through October 31. See the link for the schedule:                              

https://www.themanbehindthemonster.com/watch

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THE CAPOTE TAPES (2021, doc)

September 9, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The audio tapes of interviews George Plimpton conducted for his 1997 biography, “Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Distractors Recall his Turbulent Career”, serve as the foundation for this documentary by Ebs Burnough, once a Senior Advisor to former First Lady, Michelle Obama. As fascinating as the tapes are, it’s the archival footage, photographs, and additional on-camera interviews that turn this into a well-rounded profile of the enigmatic Truman Capote.

We hear those who knew him describe Capote as seductive, a freak, sleazy, brilliant, fun, and naughty. He’s also the author of two literary classics, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958) and “In Cold Blood” (1966). It’s the latter which some claim kicked off the celebrity culture (the one that’s out of control today), as Capote capitalized on his fame and high society standing to become bigger than the work (insert Norma Desmond line here). Burnough uses the long-standing rumors of Capote’s scandalous manuscript, “Answered Prayers” as the structure of his story-telling. For more than 10 years, Capote teased with his anticipated answer to Proust’s “In Search of Lost Times”. The closest it came to publication was a couple of chapters in Esquire Magazine in 1975. We hear this described as “excerpts of a novel that doesn’t exist”.

Whether the manuscript exists or not, has little bearing on Burnough’s ability to help us understand Capote. Those providing insight include author Jay McInerney (“Bright Lights, Big City, 1984), Capote’s long-time partner Jack Dunphy, Pulitzer Prize winning author Norman Mailer (claims Capote “wrote the best sentences”), and Kate Harrington, Capote’s adopted daughter (he had a relationship with her father). Ms. Harrington’s recollections are quite personal and add a welcome dimension to an otherwise focus on celebrity.

The segment on Capote’s 1966 “Black and White” ball at New York’s swanky Plaza Hotel is likely the best snapshot of how many remember him. The guest list was truly a who’s who among New York high society, intellects, celebrities, and even royalty. By this time, we’ve learned of Capote’s “Swans” – the beautiful and elegant society ladies who constantly escorted him in public. Of course, gay life in those days was quite a bit more challenging, so appearances were crucial.

CAPOTE (2005) with Philip Seymour Hoffman and INFAMOUS (2006) with Toby Jones, stand as the main cinematic depictions of Truman Capote for younger generations. For those of us a bit older, we vividly recall the talk show appearances by this funny little man with the baby voice and effeminate mannerisms. He was an oddity to most of us, in that he looked and sounded quite different, but it was clear he was intelligent and funny. What we didn’t know was that drugs, alcohol, and self-absorption were slowly killing him. Capote became a caricature of himself, and by the end in 1984 at age 59 had betrayed many of his friends. Burnough’s documentary is all we hoped it would be.

Opens in New York and Los Angeles theaters on September 10, 2021

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THE ALPINIST (2021, doc)

September 9, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. I nearly opted to pass on this since I assumed it would be similar to watching Alex Honnold climb in Best Documentary Oscar winner FREE SOLO (2018), and that was a visceral viewing experience that should not be messed with. To ease my concerns, the filmmakers Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen interview Honnold early on, and Alex makes it abundantly clear how impressed he is with the solo climbing of Marc-Andre LeClerc, the focus of this film. 

The opening sequence is truly breathtaking as we watch LeClerc climb. The filmmakers followed him, or at least attempted to, for the better part of two years. Honnold explains that LeClerc never sought adulation or recognition, and purposefully remained under the radar – a form of purity (and elusiveness). But even climbers have a grapevine, and over time the stories of LeClerc’s solo climbs became somewhat legendary.

Two things are well known about free climbing: these folks are a different breed – beating to their own drum, and the risk of death is extraordinary (we see a roster of some who have perished). Somehow LeClerc is even more extreme than this community of extremists. He owned neither a cell phone nor a vehicle. He had no home, and in fact, he and his girlfriend Brette Harrington recounted sleeping in a stairwell (for warmth, not comfort). As kindred spirits, LeClerc and Brette would sometimes climb together, while other times, he would take off on a new adventure.

As elusive and private as he remained, LeClerc’s own time on camera endears him to us – whether he’s climbing or just talking. For such a young man, his thoughts seem clear and deep. He understands what makes him tick, and his mother admits a 9-to-5 job was never a possibility. LeClerc recalls his hard partying phase, and how climbing helped him recover. The filmmakers panic about halfway through when their star goes AWOL and they struggle to track him down.

The photography is stunning at times, and there are drone shots that capture the spectacle of a lone climber dwarfed by nature. Just when our nerves are frazzled to bits, the ante gets upped with LeClerc displaying his ice climbing ability, and his trip to Patagonia to take on Torre Egger, the most challenging climb in the western Hemisphere. Other climbers provide some insight into the mindset, as well as LeClerc’s accomplishments. Brette and LeClerc’s mother also provide perspective, and while we may have some comprehension of alpinism and solo climbing, it’s Marc-Andre LeClerc’s natural habitat, and the only place he could quiet his mind.

In U.S. theaters on September 10, 2021, following a September 7 nationwide Fathom Events premiere, featuring exclusive bonus content (and an interview with directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen)

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THE LOST LEONARDO (2021, doc)

August 26, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. This is an unusual documentary from Andreas Keofoed. The first part examines the attempts to solve the origin mystery of a discovered painting, while the second half takes us inside the mysterious money side of the collectible art world. Both mysteries are fascinating on their own, and they blend together to track the 15 year history of a painting that may have come from the brushes of Leonardo da Vinci more than 600 years ago. Or it may not have.

We first meet Alexander Parish, a self-described “Sleeper Hunter” – one always on the lookout to purchase undervalued artwork. “That’s what I do”, states Parish. He’s the one who found the Salvator Mundi painting at a 2005 New Orleans art auction. He and his partner, Robert Simon, paid $1175 for the painting, though they had no idea what they were getting. Director Keofoed spoils any surprise, by delivering an opening credit graphic that traces the painting’s international travels over the next dozen years by itemizing the sales: $1175 in 2005, $83 million in 2013, $127.5 million in 2013, and $450 million in 2017.

Part 1: The Art Game focuses on the examination, investigation, and restoration of the painting. On one hand we have restorer Dianne Modestini meticulously working her magic to discover what she believes is without question, a da Vinci painting. On the other hand we have noted art critic Jerry Salz who is less skeptical and more mocking in his conclusion that not only is it not from da Vinci, it’s not even a ‘good’ painting. A great deal of effort goes into formulating the painting’s provenance – the family tree of ownership. This is crucial to the process in establishing whether it belongs with one of the 15 known Leonardo paintings, or perhaps, at best, from the work of his pupils.

Beginning with Part 2: The Art Game, the film shifts focus from the origin of ‘The Male Mona Lisa’ (as it was dubbed) to its sale and subsequent flip, and the associated investigation by the CIA into possible money laundering. It’s at this point where we meet Yves Bouvier and learn of his purchase and flip to Russian Oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is none too happy once he puts the pieces of the transaction together. The use of Freeports by the rich is also discussed. These high-security fortresses allow the owners to avoid taxes by maintaining a state of “in transit”. It’s also in this section where the role of Christie’s auction house comes into play and we learn of the brilliant hype/marketing of ‘The Lost da Vinci’.

When spending $450 million on an object, most of us would likely verify the item’s authenticity. But then most of us aren’t the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Part 3: The Global Game details how the authenticity of the painting might not even matter when the purpose is to move or protect money. A “dark transaction” allows the purchase to remain anonymous, and when the identity is discovered, it’s clear that the art world is now about money, not art.

For some purists, the question of authenticity remains for the Salvator Mundi, and restorer Modestini remains haunted by her conclusion. The art of the deal is clearly less about the art and more about the deal. Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy is not impacted by this debate, but the impact of the painting on many other folks is undeniable … and it has served a purpose as an eye-opener and economics lesson for the rest of us.

Opens in select theaters on August 27, 2021

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THE OUTSIDER (2021, doc)

August 23, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. September 11, 2001 was “a blue sky day” in New York City. Until it wasn’t. Co-directors Pamela Yoder and Steven Rosenbaum previously collaborated on 7 DAYS IN SEPTEMBER (2002), a documentary focusing on how the tragic events of that day impacted the lives of various folks. Their work on that film led the filmmakers directly to this project which examines the seven year process of opening the National 9/11 Museum at Ground Level. The result is as much a case study in personality clashes as it is a recording of artifacts.

Yes, we do see some of the archival video footage that deep down we always hope to never see again. The towers collapse, the air is clouded, and people are panicked. Soon after the attack, Michael Shulan converts his Soho storefront space into a crowd-sourced photo exhibit called “Here is New York. He invited people to bring their own photos for display. Shulan had instinctively created a shared space where people would come to pay tribute to lives lost and remember the day that should not be forgotten. A few years later, something strange happened … Michael Shulan was named Creative Director of the museum that was in the early planning stages.

Shulan’s vision conflicted at times with Museum Director Alice Greenwald’s vision. “What should the museum be?” Ms. Greenwald had run the Holocaust Museum in NYC, and had a definite idea of what this should be, while Shulan had zero museum experience and wondered if they were creating a memorial or a museum. He wanted to provoke questions, while she wanted to provide answers. A $500 million budget was at stake, and they couldn’t even agree on the approach.

We get a countdown to the museum’s opening, and even hear from the Construction Manager as work proceeds. ‘The Last Column’ provides for an interesting segment, and we see the flood that affected many of the collected artifacts. Michael Bloomberg’s influence is noted, and we see the ‘composite’ – the compacted floors on display. The documentary does focus on emotions, but it’s not the emotions we typically associate with 9/11. Instead, it’s Shulan’s disappointment and frustration. The film touches on the criticism received from the family in regards to the high ticket costs and souvenir shops, and it’s the posted quote that sticks with us: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Available now on VOD

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NOT GOING QUIETLY (2021, doc)

August 12, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Nicholas Bruckman provides an intimate profile of a fascinating man, Ady Barkan, a brilliant and relentless advocate for health care rights. Barkan’s ALS diagnosis and commitment to cause is interesting enough to carry the film, but by following Barkan, the film serves a dual purpose of educating us on activism and political maneuverings.

Bruckman bookends his film with Ady’s testimony to a congressional committee on healthcare. He’s in a wheelchair and speaking through an eye-controlled speech machine, similar to the one we saw Stephen Hawking use for many years. We then flashback 3 years to meet Ady’s wife – his college sweetheart Rachael – at their home in Santa Barbara, California. As an attorney and activist, we get to know Ady as a man who cares deeply and is committed to fighting injustice. He’s especially keyed in on healthcare and social issues.

At only 32 years of age, Ady is diagnosed with ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”. He explains that there is “no cure, and very little treatment”, and that the doctors tell him he has three to four years to live. Ady explains that “dying is bad”, but dealing with the insurance company is even worse. The ventilator prescribed by is doctor is deemed “experimental” by the insurance company, meaning it’s not covered. So what would any good activist do? Well Ady, turns his own experience into a crusade. He founds the #BeAHero campaign with Liz Jaff, a social media strategist. She films Ady’s interactions and confrontations with politicians, and they put together a 40 day, 30 congressional district road trip in a specially equipped RV. Their team also includes Tracey, who leads the role-playing on birddogging politicians, and Ady’s friend Nate, who assists him with the physical challenges. Their goal is to flip the House in the 2018 election.

Ady Barkan is a funny, intelligent, informed, opinionated, and impassioned man. He knows how to speak to an audience, as well as to politicians who don’t share his commitment to healthcare rights, including coverage for pre-existing conditions. On the trip, Ady’s health and condition deteriorate before our eyes. It’s frightening to watch, knowing how quickly his body begins to fail. But his spirit and his team are relentless, and when circumstances force the dialogue and cause to shift, there is no hesitation.

Bruckman avoids turning Ady into a one-dimension savior. We get to see him with his precocious young son Carl, who was born one year after Ady’s diagnosis. Rachael probably doesn’t get the screen time she deserves as working mother and caregiver, but it’s clear this family has chosen to live every minute they have, and even plunge into the future with optimism. Ady notes how losing his voice is worse for him than paralysis, but his eyes light up when he’s with his family. We aren’t sure which aspect of Ady is most inspirational, but it’s obvious that he’s a special man. This was an Audience Award winner at SXSW, and deservedly so.

In theaters August 13, 2021

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