15 Reasons To Live
World Premiere April 27 Hot Docs Film Festival GAT PR Press Summary
Interviews completed: Radio Print Online TV
Metro Morning – CBC Radio Interviewed: Alan Zweig
The Toronto Star Interviewed: Alan Zweig
Real Screen Interviewed: Alan Zweig
Quill and Quire Interviewed: Alan Zweig
BlogTO Interviewed: Alan Zweig
Toronto Is Awesome Interviewed: Alan Zweig
CHCH TV Interviewed: Alan Zweig
TVO Interviewed: Alan Zweig
Daniel Garber – CIUT 89.5 FM Interviewed: Alan Zweig
CBC Radio Metro Morning May 1, 2013 Interviewed by Matt Galloway
A drink with filmmaker Alan Zweig Eric Veillette
http://www.thestar.com/life/2013/04/26/a_drink_with_filmmaker_alan_zweig.html To learn what someone really thinks, you take them for a drink. This week: introspective Toronto film-‐ maker Alan Zweig (Vinyl; I, Curmudgeon), whose new doc, 15 Reasons to Live, opens at Hot Docs on Saturday. Where: The Harbord Room, 89 Harbord St. The drinks: Seated at the bar, Alan ordered their signature cocktail, The Ronald Clayton — vanilla-‐infused whisky, house-‐made maple bitters and tobacco syrup. “I’m tempted by that one because it has tobacco and I haven’t smoked in twenty years,” says our guest. For Eric, the Fairytale of New York, a whisky-‐based libation with “winter warmth” syrup and house-‐made cinnamon/walnut bitters. Mixologist: Liz Campbell E: Your film opens with you driving along a bridge in Montreal. Did you ever have a desire to make films elsewhere? A: I thought about it at one point, moving to L.A., but Toronto’s fine. Years ago there was a slogan contest and I had a great one. “Toronto: Perfectly adequate.” E: You lived on College St. when you made Vinyl. Are you still there? I’m further west now. I lived within 100 yards of Bathurst until I was 50, but I grew up in Forest Hill. My mother grew up near Clinton St., and when we were kids, she used to talk about Clinton St. the same way my grandmother talked about Russia. It was the place where my mother was poor. When we left Forest Hill, we wondered why they wanted to go back there, but it was great. E: Where did your desire to tell stories begin? A: There was a time, not that long ago, when somebody might casually say to me: you know, you’re a story-‐teller . . . I considered it an insult, because I thought that storytelling was only one aspect of film-‐ making and now you’re reducing me to something like the Vinyl Café. E: And when did that change? A: It was a confluence of two things: A few years ago, This American Life, the TV show — it was the most inspiring non-‐fiction I’d ever seen. It blew my mind. And then I came to a realization that when I interview people, I interrupt to tell my story, you know? “Oh, that reminds me . . . ” Some people like it, some people don’t.
E: I’m wondering if there’s something about the human condition where we just want to relate to people, however tangentially. A: I’m somebody who talks to people. I talk to the store-‐keeper while he’s ringing something up. Or I talk to people in moments where they might normally remain anonymous. My father was like that, and it always impressed me, sort of giving dignity to people who were otherwise being ignored. He insisted on breaking through people’s anonymity. A: In the film, you share an event from 1990 that you’ve been holding onto for a while. What happens to those stories as the years go by? A: When it comes to certain stories I share, things that happened when I was a kid, sometimes I wonder if it really happened like that, or like, am I making it up? E: The kind of story you’ve told so often it becomes a myth? A: Yeah. When I was six or seven, my parents sent me to a music school on Spadina, north of St. Clair. It’s the late ’50s, so the lower village was still waspy — the Jews hadn’t quite moved there yet. So at Christmas, this blond, Children of the Corn-‐looking kid in short pants came up to me with something in his hand. As I remember it, every kid in the class was behind him like in a triangle, and he said “do you know what this is?” I didn’t. “It’s the baby Jesus.” It was a little nativity scene. When I said I didn’t know, the whole class just made a gasping sound.
Hot Docs ’13: Zweig’s “Reasons” to be cheerful Adam Benzine
Veteran Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig (pictured) returns to Hot Docs this year with 15 Reasons to Live, an adaptation of a non-‐fiction book by Ray Robertson. The doc is Zweig’s first since 2009ʹ′s ex-‐con focused A Hard Name, and represents a stylistic change for the director from his usual, talking head-‐heavy style. Adopting a list-‐based format, the film covers short stories focusing on work, love, intoxication, humor, solitude, duty, home and death. The project was funded by Canadian broadcaster TVO, which will air it in 2014, after its Hot Docs screenings. But despite the festival slot and the film’s relatively cheery tone, the I, Curmudgeon director remains something of a self-‐professed, well, curmudgeon. “When I was a first-‐timer, I resented the veterans,” he tells realscreen in Toronto. “Now that I’m a veteran… I resent the first-‐timers.”
15 Reasons to Live is something of a departure for you…
It’s a departure in almost every way – I had a crew, I’ve never had a crew before, I [previously] shot everything myself. And structurally, it’s completely different, because it’s 15 stories told like a list, one after another, rather than inter-‐cutting. All of my films have basically been ‘talking head’ films, this is my first ‘not talking heads’ film. It has lots of B-‐roll and it looks conventional… that’s the tip of the iceberg I guess.
What can people expect from the film? The film is 15 stories ranging in every way that a story can range from, from big and small, to just slice-‐of-‐ life. They are stories where big, surprising things happen, and stories that are more static, like short stories. Each story in some way benefits from the motion created in the last one… it’s not 15 short stories without a theme – there is a way that the stories are connected, even though on the surface they’re not. I think it’s a very emotional film, and I think that many of the stories, perhaps on their own, wouldn’t be. But somehow put together, there’s something that builds. And I’m proud that that worked out. How did you come across Ray Robertson’s book Why Not? 15 Reasons to Live? The writer is a neighbor and I ran across him at a record store, and we just started talking about how all of his books have been optioned but never made. He told me that he had a non-‐fiction book coming out and maybe I was interested. Generally speaking, when somebody says that it doesn’t turn out to be anything, but when he said the title, 15 Reasons to Live… there was something about those words. I think if he’d said 10 or five it wouldn’t have been the same, but 15 just seemed like a nice number for a lot of short stories mounting together and I was looking to do something different – as different as possible, because I’d had a retrospective [at Hot Docs in 2011] and I was tired of being typecast. And also the fact that it sounded inherently positive – I’d just had a film that I was very proud of, but it was dark, very dark. And in spite of the fact that I ended up winning a Genie for best documentary that year [for A Hard Name], it didn’t get into a single film festival outside of Toronto. It was about ex-‐cons. So I thought, let’s see what happens when you make a film that’s positive. I think my other films are redemptive and life affirming and all that, but this one is positive from the outset, whereas the ex-‐con film was pretty dark and brutal.
How did that reflect in funding this film? It was commissioned by TVO and got a second window from Shaw, but pretty much everything else that I normally got, in terms of finishing funds and things like that, I didn’t get. I did sort of think, ‘Oh, people want me to keep doing the same thing,’ but whatever; it’s a privilege that I got to finish it. I thought that this’ll be a different film, it’ll have a different journey, it won’t get into Hot Docs, but maybe it’s something I just have to do… but it did get into Hot Docs, and… we’ll see. I was nervous about doing something so different, but I guess it sort of worked out. So you find it’s getting harder to make films? There’s more competition. Once upon a time when I was a first-‐timer, I resented the veterans. Now that I’m a veteran… I resent the first-‐timers, y’know? There are just too many of them, and there is something about the documentary field where it’s almost like, the playing field is too level. It doesn’t matter what your track record is; you’re competing every time, more and more. I think it is true – and it sounds like sour grapes – but I think it is true that ideas trump filmmaking in the documentary world. If somebody liked an idea by somebody who never made a film, they’d probably go with them over an idea they didn’t quite get from somebody who had five features. Still, I’m really lucky that I did get funded, but it was hard. Having ventured into a different style of filmmaking, do you think that’s something you’ll now bring to future projects? Yeah, I think I will. I thought that what I’d done in the past was simply to make certain artistic choices, but other people thought, no, that’s what you ‘do.’ And, to some degree, maybe I started to believe that myself; ‘That’s what you’re good at, the other stuff you’re not good at, don’t even try it…’ But now I feel like I’ve proven to myself that, although that “other thing” may be what I’m best at, I can still work in other ways. In the future, I am trying to find different kinds of films to make.
Q&A: filmmaker Alan Zweig on adapting Ray Robertson’s Fifteen Reasons to Live Sue Carter Finn
http://www.quillandquire.com/blog/index.php/authors/qa-‐filmmaker-‐alan-‐zweig-‐on-‐adapting-‐ray-‐ robertsons-‐fifteen-‐reasons-‐to-‐live/ Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig (Vinyl, I, Curmudgeon) knew author Ray Robertson (What Happened Later, Gently Down the Stream) well enough to nod a greeting on the street, but it wasn’t until a chance meeting at a favourite west-‐end used record store that the two started discussing their creative projects with each other. On Saturday, Zweig’s new documentary, 15 Reasons to Live, premieres at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto. Inspired by Robertson’s personal essay collection, Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, Zweig constructed his film using short vignettes about people who embody the book’s spirit. Q&Q spoke to Zweig about his documentary and relationship to Robertson’s book. What made you think this book would make a good film? When Ray told me the book was called Fifteen Reasons to Live (he didn’t mention in that first conversation that the book is actually called Why Not?), there were many things about those words that hit me hard. I have a relationship with lists in that I don’t make them. Most of my life I have said, “Are there reasons to live? What choice do I have?” I also felt there was a strong connection between the book and other films of mine, in particular I, Curmudgeon, which is about negativity and trying to move on. I decided I was going to do it before I even read the book. What did you think after you read the book? The book is not like your normal self-‐help book – it’s for people who don’t like self-‐help books because it’s told from such an eccentrically personal point of view. I don’t know if Ray would describe his book this way, but I have described my film as Oprah for cynics. I hoped there would be lots of things I could use for the film. But Ray’s reasons are more like essays and less like stories, which would have made it easier. In the end I decided the film couldn’t be my 15 reasons to live – it would have to come from the book. I was going to take it as a sacred text. How would you describe the relationship between the book and the film?
When I couldn’t find a story I would go back to the book as a reminder of how it inspired me, to see what Ray meant and see how I could apply that to a story. He gave me a map, and I’m going to all those places, but I might not take the same route he did. What was the most challenging subject? Intoxication. I didn’t want it to be about mushrooms or Carlos Castaneda, I wanted it to be about alcohol. It wasn’t simply because I don’t get drunk myself much. What is a good story about getting drunk? Individuality and Critical Mind were also challenging. While I agree individuality is a nice feature to go through life with, it’s also somewhat self-‐congratulatory. Ray can get away with it in the book because it’s extremely personal. I had to find stories that would come in the back door. Has Ray seen the film? He will see it Saturday for the first time. Sometimes I would see him in the neighbourhood and tell him about the stories. Sometimes Ray seemed excited, other times he said that wasn’t what he meant. But I think he’ll like it. He’s been very encouraging. I’m not happy that all his novels haven’t been made into films, but I think it’s a cool thing that the book you might have thought least likely to be made into a film will be the first.
Meeting at Toronto record shop leads to Hot Docs Alex Grifitth
http://www.blogto.com/film/2013/04/meeting_at_toronto_record_shop_leads_to_hot_docs/ A chance encounter at a local record shop has brought Toronto-‐based filmmaker Alan Zweig back to Hot Docs with a documentary on fifteen loosely related stories called 15 Reasons To Live. Inspired by Ray Robertson's collection of essays Why Not? 15 Reasons to Live, Zweig interviewed thirteen individuals who had life-‐changing experiences, and inserted two of his own. The auteur who made a movie about his audophilia, Vinyl, and concerning misanthropy in the self-‐titled I, Curmudgeon, still has the stylistic streak of Bukowski, but there is the slightest hint that he may be taking his career in a slightly less inward-‐looking and autobiographical direction. How did you come to adapt Ray's book? One day I saw him at the She Said Boom in Roncesvalles and that's the first time I had talked to him in a long time. He said that maybe since I was interested in non-‐fiction maybe I'd like to adapt this book of essays he had coming out. Then he told me the title. I think that there were a lot of things happening in my life at the time that made those four words hit me. The story titled "Praise" concerned Jim Shedden and the 1000 Songs blog on Facebook, where visitors can log reactions and personal memories relating to songs. Jim worked at the AGO, in the experimental film scene -‐ these were things I was on the very fringe of, but not my community. Then I heard about the blog, about a hundred songs in...I like keeping a diary but I didn't have a good reason to keep one and then this guy comes along and says 'do you want to write your diary in reaction to my diary?'" Were you conscious that the film almost exclusively took place in Toronto? That wasn't on purpose but I like [seeing familiar places]. I'll see something in an American TV show and say 'Isn't that my street?' Is your interview style always to play the devil's advocate? To insert your own doubts about the dependability of friends when you hear of remarkable bonds of friendship?
It's one thing for me to feel that way in real life; it's another thing for me to express that in the film. I always struggle with what part of my reaction to include. The worst thing is to interview somebody who has told the same story one hundred times, and they have a script in their head. You want them to say something that sounds genuine and sometimes the only way to do that is to argue or upset them. Has the filmmaking process given you an epiphany or mini-‐epiphany? I changed before I started filming. I say something at the end of the film about choosing happiness and how I reacted when I heard it. That's the first time I heard that and didn't think that was bullshit. But I heard so many stories where that appeared to be borne out, and it broke my back, I couldn't deny it: you choose to let happiness into your life. The loose structure of different self-‐contained stories reminds me of songs in an album -‐ which album would you compare it to? Maybe Moondance, but that's too much. I'd love to think Blonde on Blonde but maybe that's too much too. I want to say Sunshine Superman, which is secretly great, it's a truly great album. I think a song in an album is a better analogy than, say, chapters in a book.
15 Reasons to Live: How Alan Zweig Found His Story http://about.tvo.org/blog/we-‐help-‐people-‐understand-‐world/15-‐reasons-‐live-‐how-‐alan-‐zweig-‐found-‐his-‐story
Recently in the National Post, director Alan Zweig wrote a very insightful “diary” about how his latest film, 15 Reasons to Live, came to be. In the article, he talks about how his personal life has been the inspiration for his filmography – one entirely commissioned by TVO – but how he strayed away from that in his previous film, A Hard Name. As in A Hard Name, he thought his next film would take him back to the world of crime and criminals, but a chance encounter with Ray Robertson, author of the book Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, gave him a reason to look elsewhere for his next story, and he was excited by the challenges that the new idea presented. “Luckily for me, TVO decided to take the chance with me, and trust that those challenges were surmountable,” said Alan. One year later, 15 Reasons to Live was the result. 15 Reasons premiered this past Saturday at the Hot Docs festival and airs on TVO in early 2014. It’s a great example of the kind of thought-‐provoking programming TVO supports and TVO is proud to play a role in supporting Canadian filmmakers like Alan.
Daniel Garber talks with Alan Zweig about his new documentary 15 Reasons to Live Daniel Garber
http://danielgarber.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/daniel-‐garber-‐talks-‐with-‐alan-‐zweig-‐about-‐his-‐new-‐ documentary-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live/ Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What little things get you through the day? What makes you commit? What do you do when you suffer an enormous loss? A new documentary follows 15 diverse people who tell their brief, honest stories to the filmmaker, in sequence — some life-‐affirming, some inconsequential. Whale watchers, a man who walks around the world, a massage artist, a lighthouse keeper. This is an intensely personal movie, though not necessarily intimate. It’s called Fifteen Reasons to Live, it’s directed by Alan Zweig and it’s having its world premier at Toronto’s Hotdocs documentary festival. Alan talks about why he made the film, how he chose the subjects, whether this represents a shift in his filmmaking style… and more.
Follow the link below for full audio interview http://danielgarber.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/daniel-‐garber-‐talks-‐with-‐alan-‐zweig-‐about-‐his-‐new-‐ documentary-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live/
This is the real life: Mini reviews of this year’s Hot Docs films Chris Knight
http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/04/26/hot-‐docs-‐minis/ In his latest, Toronto filmmaker Zweig reminds us that happiness is a choice you have to make every day, and asks ordinary people to explain what keeps them going. Whether it’s frequenting a mall to be alone or saving a humpback whale, there are elements in each of these 15 stories – a few of which include Zweig’s own accounts – that are both relatable and utterly compelling. 2.5 stars M.R.
10 films getting the biggest advance-‐buzz at Hot Docs Blake Williams
http://www.blogto.com/film/2013/04/10_films_getting_the_biggest_advance-‐buzz_at_hot_docs/ A new Alan Zweig film is like Toronto's doc community's version of a new Woody Allen film, only they come less frequently and tend to be even more self-‐loathing -‐ except for this one. Continuing in the selfless tradition he explored in his last Hot Docs success, A Hard Name, Zweig turns his camera from his own problems onto the inspiring, life-‐affirming experiences of other. Motivated by a list he came across of the supposed fifteen best reasons to live one's life to the fullest, this film finds a subject to correspond to each point on the list. Again, heart strings, etc.
15 reasons to watch this soothing documentary Katrina Onstad
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/15-‐reasons-‐to-‐watch-‐this-‐soothing-‐ documentary/article11551448/ A low-‐level hum of sadness has run through our house lately, a byproduct of tragedies elsewhere. The radio is usually on, and for months the airwaves have been vibrating with calamity: Newtown, sexual violence in India, Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons. And now a disaster trifecta: Boston, Texas and an alleged thwarted terrorist attack on a Via Rail train. Yes, there are criminally underreported tragedies in forsaken corners of the world, and yes, most of us are fine, lucky, uninjured. I am at neither the centre nor the perimeter. I’m not the friend, shaken, who crossed the finish line an hour before the bombs went off, or a student at the University of Quebec who worked in a lab beside a man with suspected al-‐Qaeda links. But still, tragedy comes at the bystanders, minute by minute, via our phones and computers; it’s different from tangible, personal loss. The school sends advice to parents that says to turn it off and let the kids lead the conversation. But there are fewer guidelines for adults. We aren’t survivors of tragedy, just “media survivors.” Our only symptom may be compassion fatigue, a psychic numbing from relentless exposure to disaster from a distance. But I feel the opposite: over-‐sensitized, alert and alarmed. I was relieved to watch a documentary that soothed through the simple assertion that life remains valuable and well lived by so many people whose stories do not make the news. The film 15 Reasons to Live, playing at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival this week, is a study of joy and pain that is quietly instructive but mostly entertaining. It could be called How to Be Happy, and offers comfort to those of us who would never buy a book with a title like that, but still really want to know. The film is based on a book of essays by Ray Robertson, a novelist I met when we shared a podium a few years ago. I was reading from my first book, and he from his sixth. He had a cowboy hat, a handlebar mustache and actual fans. No one bought my book, and he was kind about that, and palpably in love with the writing life. Since then, Robertson has written that around that time, he was dealing with serious depression after struggling with OCD. And so he wrote a non-‐fiction book to make sense of it, mixing philosophy, rock ’n’ roll and memoir in a series of essays under headings such as Home, Individuality and Intoxication (the latter is close to his heart). Filmmaker Alan Zweig, best known for his neurotic-‐with-‐a-‐heart-‐of-‐gold persona in documentaries like Vinyl and I, Curmudgeon, has made this list into a movie. The two artists are well matched, sharing curiosity about a type of loneliness – the drifting, solitary male artist.
The film follows Robertson’s list, but drops his philosophizing in favour of short vignettes with different people recounting personal stories. In Critical Mind, a nine-‐year-‐old girl talks about standing up to Catholic-‐school tyranny. In Love, a woman permits her husband to walk around the world for 10 years: “I loved him enough to give him the freedom to express himself the way he saw fit,” she says. If this sounds inspiring, it is, and I say that as someone who is constitutionally suspicious of any triumphing of the human spirit on film. But 15 Reasons is a documentary, with that form’s inherent immediacy and humility. It homes in on small, human profundities. Zweig, whose disembodied voice interviews the subjects, remains his unsentimental, incredulous self even when spinning the heart-‐ warming tale of a humpback freed from a fishing net by whale watchers (Duty – surely it has been optioned by Disney). The final segment, Death, is the film’s most powerful. Atop animation, Zweig reveals his admiration for a successful artistic couple he knows, Don and Tracy, who turn out to be Don McKellar and Tracy Wright, actors-‐writers-‐directors. Zweig, who sees himself as the consummate outsider, is pleased to be invited to their annual pear party, where fecund trees in their backyard produce too much fruit each summer. Then Wright becomes ill with pancreatic cancer. Zweig is anxious about what to say in the face of this tragedy. Finally, at a party that will likely be their last encounter, he awkwardly asks her if the pear trees bloomed, as they failed to the year before. Yes, she says: “Everything wants to live.” It is the film’s final line. After the screening, I dug around for a C.S. Lewis quote that seemed like related comfort: “Tragedy is more important than love. Out of all human events, it is tragedy alone that brings people out of their own petty desires and into awareness of other humans’ suffering.” For a while, the hum faded.
Hot Docs 2013: '15 Reasons To Live' Looks On The Bright Side Mark Wigmore
Alan Zweig: Canada's greatest documentarian? His latest film, "15 Reasons To Live", provides a strong argument for that statement, and once again Zweig will be showcased at this year's Hot Docs festival. The premise of this doc came from a simple place. Chatting with an acquaintance in a record store, the man told Zweig that he had put together a list of 15 reasons to live. Before he read a word, Zweig knew he would be looking for stories to correspond with whatever was written down, and that is what he did. The results are stunning and euphoric, and given Zweig's well chronicled lonely journey through his own life, the film takes on an even sunnier context.
"From '77 to 2000 I was a failure," Zweig said in an interview I did with him in 2011. "When I saw my films again, I thought, 'boy you were pretty sad back then.'" Sad indeed. His early work introduced doc lovers to a half-‐glass-‐empty curmudgeon of a man. Zweig often appeared, or was even central, to the narrative of his stories. In his cult classic "Vinyl", he hangs out with compulsive Toronto record collectors while confronting his own shortcomings as a social animal in modern society. "I, Curmudgeon" is an even deeper look into Zweig's psyche, the glum director offering up confessions about his feelings on life into a mirror. But there was something very watchable about his testimonials and Zweig's brand of filmmaking drew a dedicated fan base. It would be hard to argue against the positive track Zweig seems to be on these days. He won a Genie Award (now called the Canadian Screen Awards) for his devastating and empathetic look at criminal life in "A Hard Name" in 2009, and Hot Docs put together a focus on his films in 2011. He's recently even become a family man. In "15 Reasons To Live", Zweig uses personal stories from 15 subjects to paint a picture of hope. Subtitles like Love, Solitude, Praise, Work, Meaning, The Body and Death are explored in gorgeous little vignettes. In 'Love', Zweig meets a man who decides to walk around the world, all with the financial and emotional support of his wife. In 'The Body', a man named Peter builds rock sculptures in his local river, using physical exertion to put his life on track and deal with anger issues. And in 'Duty', a family makes the courageous decision to save a humpback whale from a fishing net while traveling in a small boat in Baja Mexico. The stories are inspiring, touching and always thoughtful. Once again, Zweig uses his voice-‐over and interview skills to put his signature brand into the film. There is a comfort to his tone, often caring, but respectful to give space to his subjects. Some have compared him to Michael Moore, but he doesn't use the same heartstring pulleys that his American counterpart is often guilty of. Zweig also takes time in his latest doc to tell a few of his own stories, a reminder that he too is yearning for reasons to live. "I'm not good at coming up with subjects for documentaries. People always say I am negative. I am trying to temporarily destroy brand because it's a bit of burden. I've been typecast essentially," Zweig said of his body of work in 2011. "15 Reasons To Live" is full of hope, joy and inspiration, but it's still very much a Zweig film. He broke the mould but was true to himself. Zweig continues to dazzle and challenge his own brand with his latest offering and I for one can't wait to see what he does next.
15 Reasons to Live Angelo Muredda
http://torontoist.com/2013/04/15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live/ DIRECTED BY ALAN ZWEIG (Canada, Canadian Spectrum) Inspired by Ray Robertson’s eponymous essay collection, Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig’s 15 Reasons to Live offers a series of vignettes about why life is worth prolonging despite its inherent trials. As the high concept would suggest, this approach yields something of a mixed bag, with stories ranging from the deeply poignant (a novelist who must retrain himself to read after a stroke) to the mawkish (a couple’s attempt to rescue a whale, captured on home video), but Zweig’s characteristic warm embrace of his subjects and grouchy-‐cum-‐friendly narration makes it an amiable ramble all the same. One wonders at times whether the source text doesn’t hurt the film’s structure more than it helps. That’s especially true in Zweig’s profile of local activist Adam Nobody, whose injuries and detainment at the hands of police during Toronto’s G-‐20 summit are a bit cryptically introduced as “humour.” But the best portraits, including Zweig’s sweet reminiscence about Toronto film staple Tracy Wright and another segment about an elementary school student who openly resisted the religious dogma of her institution, have an uncommon depth and generosity to them that makes up for such hiccups.
Hot Docs Daily: 15 Reasons to Live , Our Nixon , The Shebabs of Yarmouk Kiva Reardon
http://torontoist.com/2013/04/hot-‐docs-‐daily-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live-‐our-‐nixon-‐the-‐shebabs-‐of-‐yarmouk/ Day three of Hot Docs has some strong offerings for the first full weekend of the festival. Canadian favourite Alan Zweig turns his lens towards the philosophical, examining why despite all the trials and tribulations life is worth living in 15 Reasons to Live (6:30 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox). Having previous looked at what drives people to collect records (Vinyl) or what it means to search for love (Loveable), now Zweig is inspired by essayist Ray Robertson. Though it falters structurally at times, it is a warm and affecting film that probes far deeper than Hallmark card sentimentality.
15 Reasons to Live Robert Bell
As evidenced by the rather ambitious and indirectly presumptive title, Alan Zweig's documentary, 15 Reasons to Live, attempts to deconstruct the human experience through broad extrapolation from a sample audience. It's a work that intends to form meaning amidst chaos, taking a very literal list of intangible identifiers—love, duty, friendship, work, solitude, and so on—and giving them a brief, thematically appropriate, anecdotal face, not unlike what Krzysztof Kieslowski did far more successfully with the Polish miniseries, The Decalogue . Of distinction is Zweig's style or auteur projection, which is that of angst-‐ridden narcissism imposed on his documentary subjects. While they speak, he often interrupts and relates their stories back to himself, interrupting his own flow to tell stories about his own life, ostensibly whining about the world not understanding or appreciating him. This self-‐involvement is most obvious in the segment on intoxication, wherein a young woman's decision to lose control and partake in an air show excursion with complete strangers becomes a tale of Zweig's own inability to indulge in the spirits. But in the "love" and "duty" segments, which detail a man's decision to walk around the world and the work a small group of people did to free a whale from a net, he mostly shuts up, allowing those pieces to work more effectively. Amidst these very brief stories of stressed out mothers with painful regrets and poseur urbanite protesters, Zweig takes two of the titular "reasons" for himself, telling tales of death in friends and neighbours. The rudimentary animation and concise short story narration actually helps break up the litany of experiential examples of life unfolding, giving a bit of stylistic whimsy to what is essentially a visually dull talking heads affair. Because the segments are fleeting, the occasional terrible example—"humour" being one—is easily ignored and forgotten once a more compelling personal yarn comes along to fill the mostly superficial void. Nothing about 15 Reasons to Live holds up to its ambitious title in any sense but the accessible, well-‐paced format does work in a Chicken Soup for the Soul sort of way, appealing in a very twee, broad sense.
Hot Docs 2013: 15 Reasons to Live José Teodoro
A battered yet indefatigable optimism suffuses the work of Alan Zweig, the Toronto filmmaker who can, however reluctantly, count himself among those referred to in the titles of both I, Curmudgeon (2004) and Lovable (2007), two of his more overtly personal films. Optimism can be a shrewd way of resolving story, but it is also a genuine survival technique, a way to endure hard times. Near the end of 15 Reasons to Live, Zweig, in voice-‐over, concedes to the notion that happiness can be a choice. Big-‐hearted and relentlessly curious, one of Canada’s premiere group-‐portraitists relays in his new film 15 true stories of people making such choices, sometimes at enormous personal risk, sometimes by simply saying yes to an unlikely offer. For Zweig, that offer came in the form of a creative provocation prompted by the premise of Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, a nonfiction book by his friend Ray Robertson, itemizing its author’s personal tactics for overcoming depression. “What struck me,” explains Zweig, “was the idea that a list of reasons would require a list of stories, and at that moment, that kind of storytelling challenge was especially appealing.” For more on Alan Zweig and his filmography, read our profile. Some of the stories Zweig found are truly extraordinary. The film hits the ground running with its inaugural reason to live: LOVE. Zweig pays tribute to love’s seemingly infinite malleability by telling the story of Jean Béliveau , whose response to a midlife crisis was to start walking— alone—all over the world, and of Luce Archambault, Béliveau’s wife, who gave her blessing in exchange for the understanding that the couple would reunite once a year in whatever locale Béliveau found himself. Some stories seem drawn from myth. Peter Reidel, whose story Zweig uses to represent the BODY, was a rage-‐filled ex-‐con who moved to Toronto without knowing a soul. He found solace in wading into rivers and streams and constructing large, enigmatic rock
formations with his bare hands. Other stories are more familiar, yet no less moving. To illustrate the life-‐affirming power of WORK, Zweig profiles Mark Sun, who abandoned a lucrative yet spirit-‐crushing career as an import-‐export trader in China, moved to Canada, and, seemingly by chance, embarked on a new career as a massage therapist, which imbued his life with a desperately needed sense of meaning. From the compulsive collectors surveyed in Vinyl (2000) to the varied individuals struggling with life after incarceration in A Hard Name (2009), Zweig’s films are distinguished by their emphasis on the hidden connective tissue that binds groups of people together. “I’ve thought of all my films as collective stories,” says Zweig. “When you weave together bits of interviews, as I did in all my previous films, you automatically create connections. In this one, I knew I wasn’t going to weave the stories, but, of course, I hoped that connections of some kind would be created nonetheless, that a collective story would emerge, however indiscernible.” Perhaps the key ingredient in seeing through such a project was the same one underlying every one of its stories: faith. “I’ve always followed my gut,” Zweig claims. “For a long time while making 15 Reasons, I thought my gut had finally steered me the wrong way. But as I look at the finished film, I’m feeling like I got away with it—and that I owe my gut an apology.”
Hot Docs 2013 Preview
Another edition of Toronto's beloved docmentary fim festival Hot Docs Just began yesterday but kicks in to full gear today. And I haven't really taken a gander at the schedule at all. No media accreditation this year so what ever I see this year will be on my own dime, but the festival has graciously given me access to screeners of some of the music documentaries, which I'm very appreciative so expect to see reviews of those in the future. With the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs and the numerous smaller film festivals that Toronto plays host to, it's a great city to be a film fan. For much of my life I was very much a music fan but when it came to films I was very random, watching anything from whatever was coming out of Hollywood to the odd indie / art film. But over the the last 6 years (especially due to TIFF, but also due in no small part to great television programming which has become much more story-‐based) I think I'm slowly gravitating to film. One of the docs I'm hoping to catch is one by Alan Zweig who's best known for Vinyl his introspective examination on the subject of vinyl record collectors. His new one is called 15 Reasons To Live, and is collaborative effort between Zweig and author Ray Robertson, the pair who started out as neighborhood acquaintances and is based on Roberton's book Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live. Music for me has always for the most part been about in-‐the-‐now ie. what mood / emotions I'm currently feeling. Documentaries / films go beyond your present state, to being much more expansive, whether it be educational, discovery, or opening one's self up to the realm of human emotions.
Hot Docs Review: 15 Reasons to Live Trista DeVries
http://www.hotdocs.ca/film/title/15_reasons_to_live 15 Reasons to Live is the latest film from Alan Zweig, Canada’s most infamous (and lovable) curmudgeon. Zweig made the film after running into a neighbour who shared his list of reasons to live and realizing he had never thought of reasons to live himself. Looking episodically at everything from friends and love to intoxication and individually to critical thinking and praise the film chronicles 15 reasons why we should live. I’m familiar with Zweig’s work, and while he is affable, he is certainly a cynic. So when I saw that his latest film was called 15 Reasons to Live, I was mildly dubious that he might be playing a trick on us. I can assure you, he was not. Zweig has always been an excellent filmmaker, and how he has turned his lens to doing something lots of filmmakers attempt and few achieve: to gently celebrate real life, warts and all. Everything about this film is beautiful. From a young outspoken and inquisitive girl saying that she never wishes that she had different traits to a group of people helping a whale free itself from a net to the last time Zweig saw Tracy Wright, every story in this film is a genuine celebration of life. Possibly the most beautiful thing about 15 Reasons to Live is that you will not leave the theatre cheering for all the “good” things in life. You are unlikely to leave the theatre not crying. What you will do is leave the theatre feeling celebrated and affirmed. Nice work, Mr. Zweig. Is 15 Reasons to Live essential Hot Docs viewing? There are no words to explain how essential this film is – at Hot Docs, or anywhere else. If you’re alive, you should see it, but if you’re from Toronto you must absolutely see it. In fact, I’m going to lobby City Hall to make seeing this film a condition of residence in the city. The Ford administration is probably game for something like that.
Hot Docs 2013 Preview: Canadian Edition Andrew Parker
http://dorkshelf.com/2013/04/25/hot-‐docs-‐2013-‐preview-‐canadian-‐edition/ Recommended: No one would have probably expected one of the most life affirming documentaries in this year’s festival to have come from the likes of Alan Zweig, yet here we are. Toronto’s favourite curmudgeon Alan Zweig trades in a bit of his trademark snark for a healthy dose of sincerity in the disarmingly touching 15 Reasons to Live. After a chance encounter with an acquaintance at a record store who shares their reasons to live, Zweig uses it as a chance to document the lives of others and the special moments that make life worth living even when it gets to be incredibly difficult. There are still funny moments and the topics being broached here cover a wide range of human existence from love to death and everything in between, but there’s an undeniable warmth to everything. Zweig’s subjects are all truly special and could be worthy of their own films. One wishes more time could be spent with them and while some “purists” might think the film to be a bit precious, Zweig doesn’t have a twee or hamfisted bone in his body. It’s real feel good filmmaking without all the bullshit.
15 Reasons To Live Hot Docs 2013 Review Jordan Smith
http://www.ioncinema.com/reviews/15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live-‐review Occasionally, moments of epiphany can boil down the colossal essence of mortality into simple, elegant terms. For Alan Zweig, director of the LP obsessed docu Vinyl, one of those momentous occasions fittingly occurred in a local record shop where an acquaintance shared their fifteen reasons to continue through life’s ups and downs. Right there and then, Zweig decided to construct a film around this list birthed from Ray Robertson’s mental illness memoir ‘Why Not? Fifteen Reasons To Live’. Beyond the groping hands of cynicism, Zweig’s tear-‐jerking 15 Reasons To Live pieces together a pastiche of tales that pulls hard on those old heartstrings while delving deep into the human condition to explore why, in the face of the daunting daily grind or prolonged personal hardship, people continue to forge ahead. Swaying into the appellation of compilation, Zweig lays out his edict in charming voice over and quickly moves right into the first of fifteen episodic tales, a story of a middle aged man who was losing the taste for life, but found that walking seemed to lift the weight of the world from his slumping shoulders. With his wife’s blessing, he decided to quit his job and venture out to literally walk around the world, subsequently awakening a vigor within him not tapped beforehand. Told with a mixture of traditional interviews, in-‐action footage and water-‐coloresque animations, Zweig’s discovered stories come to life in succinct bursts of reverence. A profound discovery of life changing verve has taken each of his subjects and all he has to do is tease it out. The idyllic list contains those you might expect – love, home, friendship, humour, art, work – but expands to more novel rationale in reasons like intoxication, solitude, praise, individuality, critical mind, meaning, the body, duty and death itself. With his intentions divulged up front, Zweig dives head long into the inspirational without ever feeling overly sentimental. Even when he decides to conclude with a personal story that lovingly frames the passing of an acquaintance as a catalyst to bring people together and more appreciate the life you’re given, the film doesn’t emotionally manipulate, but rather honestly moves with the eloquently articulated reality that we all face. Surprisingly, this is one of two fully animated sequences mixed into the fold. At first a bit visually jarring, the animated scenes actually bear some of the most emotional resonance. Whilst one inspires us to pursue happiness through somberly confronting life’s end, the other celebrates individuality with an underlying similarity via missed connections and departed neighbors. The narrator tells of the detached exchange between he and a character who mysteriously left kitschy ads on his seat that matched the period of his beloved old unlockable auto. It turns out the anonymous gifter was an eccentric local artist named Gary ‘Monster’ whose premature passing mournfully prevented their ever meeting. Potently scripted and affectingly orated, these bits lack the naturalism of the interview driven pieces, but convey a tragic verity that allows us to know these people intimately, even if they never physically appear on screen. Everyone has an ailment, whether it be a physical debilitation, a moral conundrum, a mental dilemma or an agonizing regret. The film reminds us that we all have our own little ways of surmounting the stress. Zweig has assembled a collection of ordinary individuals who’ve managed to find happiness, meaning or at least gratification in life, making the oppressive melancholy of the everyday bearable, the cursed dilapidation of health tolerable, and every passing second momentously worthwhile. For some, 15 Reasons To Live will seem little more than heightened Hallmark inspiration, but the film truly prevails as a harrowing testament to human resilience. Just be prepared to bring the waterworks.
Capsule Review: 15 Reasons to Live Lisa Santonato
http://filmbutton.com/mainpage/?p=8905 15 Reasons to Live is the most recent film by Toronto-‐based documentary filmmaker Alan Zweig, best known for his Genie-‐award winning documentary, A Hard Name. Based on Ray Robertson’s book entitled, Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, the film is a collection of personal stories inspired by Robertson’s reasons including Love, Death, Humour, Work, and Duty. The film follows Zweig’s unique style of personal storytelling in a new format: a collection of short stories of everyday people struggling to find meaning in their lives. It’s wonderful, unique, and poignant. Not to be missed.
Hot Docs 2013: Five Capsule Reviews, including “Trucker and the Fox” John C
You know the drill. The 20th edition of Hot Docs is currently going strong in Toronto, and will be until May 5th. Yesterday I shared my thoughts on Last Woman Standing, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, Chimeras, We Cause Scenes and Fight Like Soldiers Die Like Children. Below are my short reviews of five more films playing right now at the festival, including two that first played yesterday and three that are premiering later today. They are all worth seeing for their own reasons. My next two sets of capsule reviews will be coming tomorrow and Monday, with even more set to be published later in the week. So watch out for those, and you can get more information on the festival and purchase tickets right here. Enjoy! 15 Reasons to Live: Although the director and narrator says at the beginning of 15 Reasons to Live says that he doesn’t believe everything happens for a reason, it would be hard to walk away from the film feeling the same way. Made up of fifteen segments titled after the chapters in Ray Robertson’s book of the same name, filmmaker Alan Zweig captures personal interviews with various Canadians, some more well known than others. Although a few of the sequences could have been a little more fleshed out, this is a film that continues to resonate. Highlights include two incredibly touching animated scenes, and everyone has something interesting to say about how happiness is a choice that most people have to make, and chance encounters can end up having significant impacts on our lives. This is an interesting little collection of stories about how different people feel their lives are validated, that ends on a moving and inspirational note.
Hot Docs Review – 15 Reasons to Live http://www.the-‐filmreel.com/2013/04/30/hot-‐docs-‐2013-‐review-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live/ Alan Zweig was inspired to create 15 Reasons To Live after running into an old friend, who shared his list of 15 reasons to live with him. Through a series of short interviews, focusing on various topics like love, work, home, and death, Zweig explores the range of themes that his friend felt were reasons to live. Equal parts funny, sad, and inspiring, 15 Reasons To Live is an intimate look at what life has to offer, if we’re willing to accept it. It helps to better understand the idea behind the film to fully appreciate what is offered. Each reason to live, such as love, features an interview with someone telling a story about that theme. They’re not offering their specific reason to live, but showing us how important that theme is to life. Using love as an example, Zweig speaks to a man who decided to walk around the world after struggling through a mid-‐life crisis. His wife explains how she had to let him experience this, because loving someone means letting them be happy, and they, in turn, will do the same for you. Love isn’t the reason this couple are alive, but their story truly explains why love is such an important part of life. Love is the first theme of "15 Reasons To Live" From there, Zweig offers stories on ideas work, duty, critical minds, and even intoxication. Each story is incredibly moving, with some proving to be more emotional than others. The final theme of death is especially heartbreaking, as a story of impending death mixes with the joy of birth. Life isn’t without humour though, and the theme of solitude offers the story of a mother who loves her family, but also patiently waits for the day when her kids have all moved on. As a parent, it’s easy to relate to this idea, and the way the kids randomly interrupt the interview is hilarious, mainly because it’s such a familiar concept that I’ve experienced. The theme of critical minds offers a story of a girl who refused to introduce herself to Jesus, saying that he should already know who she is. It’s not that often that a film manages to be as moving, inspiring, truthful, and funny as 15 Reasons To Live. Documentaries tend to inspire people to take action, but this one simply inspires people to do what they’re already doing, living life. It’s easy to see how each theme is an important part of life, and the stories told may make you realize that these themes already play a huge role in your day to day activities. 15 Reasons To Live instantly becomes a must see film, assuring viewers that life has plenty to offer, and allowing us to see how different people have embraced the various themes, making their lives, and those around them, better.
Reel Talk, Take Seventeen: Hot Docs 2013 Highlights Chantelle Rodrigo
http://www.torontoisawesome.com/reel-‐talk/reel-‐talk-‐take-‐seventeen-‐hot-‐docs-‐2013-‐highlights/ The second feel-‐good hit was Director Alan Zweig’s 15 Reasons to Live. The film begins on a highway with Zweig’s voiceover talking about his friend, a record store employee, who compiled a list of these reasons to live. Inspired by this list, Zweig set out to find subjects and stories that best exemplified each reason. The reasons themselves vary greatly. They go from conventional (Love, Friendship and Home) to unconventional (Duty, A Critical Mind and Intoxication). Zweig found his stories through friends, ads and generally people he knew and he originally had collected 100 stories. All the stories in the film are positive and what’s most interesting is the way that each story ties into its title or rather, its reason. Duty, for example, has two couples telling us a story about when they came across a humpback whale caught in a net, dying. These two couples were on a boat together and one of them, owned a whale watching company (which is how they came across the whale in the first place). Risking their lives, they drew their boat closer to the tangled whale and with the small knives they had, began working at the net bit by bit until, finally, the whale was free. With stories of goodwill, it’s hard not to feel slightly changed after having seen the film. It was no different for the Zweig either. “I believe that I was to some degree changed, not so much by the stories we were filming and ended up using but just, from the very beginning, from looking for stories and putting myself in that realm. At the end of the film I say something about choosing happiness but, well, I feel like I wouldn’t have thought of choosing happiness until I started the film.” So other than successfully giving his audience that warm, fuzzy feeling, what exactly was Zweig trying to achieve with a film so positive? “It was almost like I was looking for a different way to make a film. I guess I just wanted to experiment with storytelling, non-‐fiction storytelling. How could I tell a bunch of unconnected stories and would the collected humanity of them add up to something or would it make it hang together?” Well they definitely did especially because once each reason appears on screen you can’t help but think to yourself, “Yeah, that is a pretty good reason for living.” Another good reason? Both these films are getting wider release with the end of Hot Docs.
Hot Docs: 15 Reasons to Live [2013, Alan Zweig] Ricky Lam
http://www.panicmanual.com/2013/04/26/hot-‐docs-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live-‐2013-‐alan-‐zweig/ 15 Reasons To live is the latest documentary from Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig. In this film, we meet a series of characters, all of whom have found happiness – whether it is was temporary or sustained and their stories are relayed (and some might be re-‐enacted) in the documentary. Based on the work of Ray Robertson, the film takes us through fifteen stories from a variety of people in all swaths of life. They have all found happiness at some point. These stories are have been categorized under broad terms such as “love”, “home” and “intoxication” for example. Some stories are particularly strong (a wife allows her husband to walk around the world for ten years, strangers team up to save a whale) and some seem rather odd (mother abandons her kids for hours at a time to go to a mall) but maybe the point of it is that everyone is different, and everyone finds happiness in different things. I am glad that some of the stories Zweig chose had archival footage, otherwise it would have been a series of talking heads followed by shots of the subjects walking around in random Toronto neighborhoods. As much as I like pointing out what places are during the film, it might not have provided for the most interesting visual experience for non-‐Toronto people. Zweig’s interviewing style for some of these stories is interesting, as he tends to talk about himself during the subject’s story (especially the introverted girl/boating story). I guess it’s his documentary and he can do whatever he wants.While all the stories are just very loosely connected, the message of the film is clear. Everyone in the world can have happiness, it might come in odd shape and sizes, but it’s up to you to choose to find it. A pretty good message.
Hot Docs Review: '15 Reasons to Live' http://www.cinemablographer.com/2013/04/hot-‐docs-‐review-‐15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live.html
I started writing a list of fifteen reasons to see this beautiful film at Hot Docs this year, but a baker’s dozen and a bit doesn’t seem sufficient. I just loved 15 Reasons to Live. As only the very best documentaries can do, 15 Reasons to Live captures the seemingly mundane shards of life that rarely receive inspection, yet it turns them over in a fine light and pieces them together into a radiant, unabashedly life-‐affirming mosaic. One of the most obvious reasons to catch 15 Reasons to Live at the festival is its local flavour. Shot primarily in Toronto with a few scenes in Montréal, 15 Reasons To Live is like a love-‐letter to Canada’s busiest city. It follows Torontonians through the vibrantly eclectic funk of Kensington Market to the streetcar soundtrack of College Street, right down to the waterfront to find a kind of serenity I frankly didn’t know existed in the city. Catching a glimpse of familiar locales guided by neighbours, Toronto audiences should surely feel like part of a collective. The film conjures a sense of community through its separate, but wholly communal, cast of characters. Director Alan Zweig, inspired by Ray Robertson’s collection of essays Why Not? 15 Reasons to Live, creates an uplifting collage of soul-‐searching as he devises a vignette to capture the spirit of each of these fifteen reasons. In segments titled “Work”, “Love”, “Duty”, and others, Zweig interviews a collection of ordinary Canadians to reveal what gives meaning to their lives. The stories are deceptively simple in their ability to magnify the minute pleasures that make life worth living. One story, “Solitude”, follows a Toronto woman named Tabetha who relishes the silence when she flees her busy home of five children. It’s not that she dislikes being a mother—far from it—but Tabetha is an escapist and traveller at heart. She injects the thrill of travel into her day by slipping out to the local mall and simply allowing herself to be engulfed by the hum and hustle-‐bustle of the crowds as she sits in the mall and people watches. Home can sometimes feel like the loneliest place on earth, and Tabetha’s story shows that one sometimes needs to get lost in the crowd to feel grounded again.
Other reasons to live champion the need to stand out from the crowd. A ten-‐year-‐old girl named Julia, for example, transforms a hairy situation into an eye-‐opening one when she is kicked out of school for refusing to kiss a portrait of Jesus Christ on the lips in front of her class. Julia’s story, appropriately entitled “Critical Mind”, celebrates awareness. Articulate and intelligent for a girl of her age, Julia makes the incident a learning experience: she keeps her faith and she finds personal growth by refusing to conform to the masses. Likewise, “Humour”, offers a hilarious anecdote from a man named Adam Nobody who was beaten by police for protesting at the G20. All Adam did was make a sign that said “Let Donna Graduate.” Perhaps the draconian summit was not the best place to make an ironic reference to 90210, but Mr. Nobody’s attempt to bring a laugh to a bad day revealed the absurdity of authority’s staff. Look back not with anger, these stories explain, but with pride on standing out from the crowd. Some of the other stories presented in 15 Reasons to Live are anecdotes that are less about newsworthy events and more so about a state of mind. “Home” offers the story of an elderly woman named Emmaline with a youthful lust for life. Emmaline’s passion derives from the solace of feeling at home in her lighthouse, where she met her husband as a young rebel and lived with him until she died. Emmaline was forced to leave soon after his death, but yearned to return to the lighthouse. She finally did. As Emmaline describes how she takes comfort in the sounds of the waves on the rocky shoals or the view of the endless horizon she cherished with her husband, it sounds as if she never really left the lighthouse. Home can be a state of mind, and Emmaline’s contagiousness tranquility is sure to afford a sense of reassurance for viewers who reflect on the place that holds their roots.
Like Emmaline’s story, the tales in 15 Reasons to Live outline simple pleasures that could easily pass us by. The joy of reading, the thrill of creating, or the satisfaction of a job well done are all part the answer. Even a memory of good friends and good wine (which make some of my favourite memories!) is enough for Zweig’s inverted bucket list of things to do to live.
The finest story is Zweig’s own. The final chapter of 15 Reasons to Live, entitled “Death”, is a stunning animated account of Zweig’s friendship with the late actress Tracey Wright. “Death” is a fond remembrance of the parties that Wright and her husband Don McKellar would have to celebrate the annual crop offered by the pear trees in their backyard. The parties were like a communal toast to life or a festivity of renewal. Zweig’s expressive sequence closes the film with a poignantly bittersweet endnote on living life to the fullest because one never knows when the harvest is complete One could easily unpack the inspiration afforded by each of the fifteen vignettes as a reason to see the film, but Zweig’s feat of creating a whole through the amalgam of stories is the best. The sentiments of one story echo its neighbours, as each episode appears as a stand-‐alone piece framed within Zweig’s musing on the journey from crossing the bridge between death and life. These ways of looking at the world through a sunny filter are like a collective consciousness. 15 Reasons to Live comes together as a guidebook for finding the silver linings in life. One participant notes that happiness is a choice, and the fifteen reasons outlined in the film are guides to help one arrive at such a decision. Being happy, though, could be among the most difficult choices one ever has to make. The choice to be happy has a ripple effect in the lives of others, as one kind action encourages another in turn. (Think of when you hold a door open for someone and then they open the next door for you.) The goodwill of one story infuses another, and 15 Reasons to Live amasses the stories in gradual accumulation of emotion. The infectiousness of the film builds a kind of euphoria, which Zweig frees in the final chapter of the film by ending on a poignant line offered to him by Wright about the will to live. The cathartic release afforded by the stories makes the choice for happiness rather clear. 15 Reasons to Live therefore provides its audience with one of the few chances they will have at Hot Docs of taking the lessons provided by a film and realizing them to better this world. One leaves 15 Reasons to Live feeling an affirmation of life, which is reason alone to see this great, buoyant film.
15 Reasons To Live (2013) Greg Klymkiv
http://klymkiwfilmcorner.blogspot.ca/2013/04/15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live-‐review-‐by-‐greg.html Everyone says that Alan Zweig's new picture is a major departure from everything he's made to date. They're wrong. Since his first feature length documentary Vinyl, the first of his semi-‐unofficial "mirror trilogy" which then included I, Curmudgeon and Lovable, through to his fourth movie A Hard Name, Zweig has always been about humanity and all his work has been infused with compassion. 15 Reasons To Live is more of the same. Now, before anyone assumes that's a slag, allow me to add that humanity and compassion are elements of existence always worth exploring -‐ in both life and art. (After all, what else is there? Really?) Oh, I know, all those championing this as a departure are bringing up the fact that 15 Reasons is not overflowing with self-‐loathing. He's not looking at himself in a mirror and confessing his perceived failings and then using his subjects to bolster and/or change his mind. He's not aiming his camera at ex-‐cons, overtly exploring their harrowing dark side in order to find glimmers of both hope and forgiveness. Oh, and for those who saw it (and everyone who should have seen it), he's not even in the territory of his first feature, Darling Family, a tremendously moving and well directed adaptation of the play by Linda Griffiths which was, uh, about a couple on opposite ends of a decision to abort a child. Or, they say, Oh, he's not a curmudgeon after all. Well, whatever. I can only reiterate: Alan Zweig's films are about humanity and compassion -‐ period. He's a great interviewer -‐ probing, insightful, funny, thoughtful and entertainingly conversational -‐ and this, if anything, characterizes a good chunk of his style. This wends its way through all his documentaries and it's one of many reasons why it's impossible not to be riveted by them. He's got an original voice as a filmmaker and, quite literally within his vocal chords. Nobody, but nobody can sound like Alan Zweig and ABSOLUTELY nobody can make movies the way he does. Perhaps the most telling aspect of Zweig's original approach is that he is, first and foremost, an avid collector. His films are populated with large casts of characters and these individuals are inextricably linked to the themes of the films, but as such, he pulls from them the things that make each one of them unique and what he seems to do is collect all these people with the same passion he collects vinyl or books or movies or tchochkes, BUT unlike the inanimate objects he collects, he can't purge himself of his collection of subjects by dropping them off at the Goodwill Store. He collects people of all stripes and he gets, through his films, to keep them forever -‐ not just for himself, but for the world.
And THIS, for me, is what's so special and if there's any difference with the new picture from his previous work, it's that he forced himself into maintaining a strict number of subjects to add to his collection. And yes, there is one key surface departure -‐ he tells each person's story separately without the documentarian's crutch of weaving in and out of his subjects' lives, stories and perspectives. Inspired by his friend Ray Robertson's book “Why Not: Fifteen Reasons To Live?” Zweig chose the 15 chapter headings -‐ Love, Solitude, Critical Mind, Art, Individuality, Home, Work, Humour, Friendship, Intoxication, Praise, Meaning, Body, Duty and Death -‐ and with his inimitable producer Julia Rosenberg (one of Canada's true producers-‐as-‐ filmmaker that I can count on two hands and half a foot) and his Associate Producer Whitney Mallett, the team searched out 15 stories that best exemplified each reason to live. With the astounding cinematography of Naomi Wise (she paints every face with light and her compositions are exceptional) and dollops of exquisite animation by Joseph Sherman, the team shot each story separately and then with the breathtaking work of editor Eamonn O’Connor, each story was cut separately until embarking upon what must have been an even more formidable challenge, working with the assembled stories and, well, assembling them. O'Connor's cutting is especially revelatory. Each tale is perfectly paced, to be sure, but the transitions from tale to tale are quite simply, masterful -‐ at times subtle and gentle, while at others delivering my favourite kind of cut -‐ the cut that takes your breath away. Literally. (These cuts, when they work, are not jarring -‐ they kind of slide in and sidle up to you and before you know it, you've been winded.)
And damn if this structural approach doesn't work just perfectly. The film shares an architecture similar to that of "Dubliners" by James Joyce and "Winesburg, Ohio" by Sherwood Anderson -‐ each book having several great stories that work just fine on their own, but when taken all together, they generate an effect not unlike some dazzling combination of a full novel meshed with a mesmerizing tone poem. This, if anything, is what launches Zweig into some kind of stratosphere -‐ a film that brings together everything that makes his work so goddamn special; all the compassion and humanity your heart could possibly desire in a perfectly cohesive package celebrating life itself. I think it's safe to say that 15 Reasons To Live is a film that will have the kind of shelf life that only a genuine masterpiece delivers -‐ a film for now, to be sure, but more importantly, one for the ages. I don't think there is a single story that will not resonate beyond the here and now.
Witness: A tale of love against a dream to walk around the world; A search for solitude amongst the masses; The application of critical thought in the face of religious dogma; The appreciation of art when everyone says it'll never be appreciated again; A slice of individuality from a mysterious source; A sense of place when one finds a home that means forever; When work becomes that which fulfills you and feeds your soul; A sense of humour that manifests itself in a simple, but ultimately layered choice of a name that infuses your identity with one that reflects all your gifts; Friendship that's thicker than blood when a debilitating disease threatens your quality of life; A realization that an intoxicant can inspire you to never say never again; To seek the ultimate outlet to praise and worship that which fills your life more than some spurious non-‐entity; Seeking, finding and maintaining the meaning your life gives to yourself and God's creatures; To honour thine body to honour thine soul to honour the gift of expression through exertion and concentration; To save a whale; And finally, the discovery that peaches ARE life itself -‐ sweet and ever regenerating.
These are the individual stories that equal a much bigger and profound story -‐ one in which mankind seeks all those things that give meaning to one's life and how, through faith and perseverance in one's own humanity and place within the universe, anything -‐ ANYTHING -‐ is possible. And Zweig does all this and more. He gets to have his cake and eat it too. We get to have our cake -‐ his film -‐ and eat it too. Where in previous films, Zweig held a mirror to his face so that it might reflect not merely himself, but us, he takes a step further -‐ he takes grand stories that celebrate life and makes them all the mirror for us to gaze into and realize that what's precious is right in front of us and we've got to seize it and never let go. The final tale Zweig imparts in 15 Reasons To Live is, without question, a cinematic equivalent to the final story in Joyce's "Dubliners". After first seeing Zweig's truly great film, I thought deeply on my own life and where I had been, was being and where I needed to go. Like the Joyce's final words in the final story of his masterpiece, Zweig's picture, and in particular his animated tale of death made me think about those words -‐ words which give my life solace and meaning when the dark is darkest: A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. To paraphrase Joyce, I can't shake the fact that Alan Zweig has, with this future masterpiece of cinema, created a work that will make all of our souls, both the living and the dead, look to that which faintly falls through the universe and makes us all swoon ever so slowly. "15 Reasons To Live" has its world premiere at Hot Docs 2013. For tickets and showtimes, visit the Hot Docs website HERE. FULL DISCLOSURE: I have know Alan Zweig since 1987. I produced his first feature documentary. My daughter is a reason to live (in my life as well as in his film). I love movies. When I see movies I cherish, I need to write about them. End of story.
15 Reasons To Live: HotDocs13 Review Donal O’Connor
http://myetvmedia.com/film-‐review/15-‐reasons-‐to-‐live-‐hotdocs13-‐review/ Taking its cue from Why not? 15 reasons to live, Alan Zwieg’s movie follows the lives and loves of numerous people, across the age bracket. Moving from a shared love of music to schoolyard bullying to dealing with debilitating illness and death, we are kept constantly invested in the trials and tribulations on display, occasionally broken up with brief animated segments. The film moves at a brisk pace, dealing with topics such as depression, immigration, loss of loved ones, hope and despair. At no point are we bored, but we rarely ask to see more of the stories told. It is masterfully put together, easily connecting the disparate themes and ideals each interview subject brings to the table. For each heart breaking story, like the director’s own story of a friend’s cancer or a woman who gave up her dream for her family, there is a positive upside, where whales are saved, young love blossoms and a man relearns how to read after a stroke. People are given terrible trials to endure and come out the other end stronger for it. Many use their difficulties to support others, and do not even realise the good they have done until later.
MECHANICAL FOREST SOUND
Hot Docs 2013: Reviews #1 http://mechanicalforestsound.blogspot.ca/2013/04/hot-‐docs-‐2013-‐reviews-‐1.html I only been told the basic gist of this — a documentary made up of stories for each of the items on a list of reasons to live — I would have avoided it, given how that sounds like the essence of feelgood Oprah-‐ esque pap. The fact that the list was written by Ray Robertson and the film made by Alan Zweig is what got me through the door. The list (subsequently turned into a book) was made by noteworthy local author Robertson after a debilitating battle with depression. For this film, Zweig takes it in his own direction, using it as a framework to stitch together fifteen stories. In his emergence as a documentarian (in the "mirror trilogy" of Vinyl, I, Curmudgeon and Lovable), Zweig developed a self-‐reflective method that would quite literally turn the camera on himself. Zweig broke out of that pattern with 2009's somewhat-‐tentative A Hard Name, which did reveal that his sharp self-‐ questioning skills could be turned outward. That comes into play again in this film, where, in several spots, Zweig asks the exact question that you wanted to hear being asked. There's a much broader canvas than in any of his previous films, and this series of short inquiries gives an opportunity to mix together some different styles, but at bottom, it's the strength of the stories that give the film its power. Ranging from a free-‐thinking catholic school student ("Individuality") to a music blogger ("Praise") to whale watchers who become involuntary rescuers ("Duty"), the stories that go with each reason sometimes seem tangential at first ("Love", for example, tells us about a man who decided to drop out of his life to walk around the word — and the accepting forbearance afforded him by his wife) yet each illustrates how that core attribute has been a reason to live for the storyteller. Some of the stories here (such as G20 activist Adam Nobody and rock-‐balancing sculptor Peter Riedel) will be passingly familiar, and there are plenty of local landmarks to be seen, all of which helps situate these stories close to us. Maybe it's because the list includes Reasons like Humour, Solitude, and Intoxication, or maybe it's just Zweig's aversion to easy mushiness, but the film is never cheesy yet remains emotionally poignant. (I won't lie — no less than four of these made me a little misty.) The segments are sometimes a little quick (several would be worthy of full documentaries on their own merits) but if you're someone who needs a reminder of the reasons to keep going — and we all have our days where we need one — this film will do you good.
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Published on Sep 20, 2013