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April 09, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
The Hemingway name is an American Icon. Beneath the surface of the great name, though, is a history of mental illness, alcoholism and suicide.
“As a kid, you think your family is normal,” said Mariel Hemingway, in an NPR interview, “Even though there is dysfunction.”
Filmmaker Barbara Kopple met Mariel Hemingway and knew that by telling her story, Kopple would be able to delve beneath the surface of this famous family.
“Running from Crazy” is built around Mariel and her two sisters, Margaux and Muffet, all three grandchildren of Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize-winning author of American classics, such as “The Old Man and the Sea” who suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1961. Margaux, who had a career as a model and actress, committed suicide in 1996 when she was 41 years old.
Kopple tackles the topic of mental illness – “a universal subject that deserves more discussion since we all are affected in one form or another.” She hopes her film will be able to “bring down the stigma surrounding mental illness” … and make it “easier for individuals to access the help they need.” Help that “unfortunately eluded so many of Mariel’s family.”
Ernest Hemingway’s life and suicide is something that has been out there for many years, “but understanding how the genetic legacy was passed down and impacted subsequent generations is not something we knew much about,” says Kopple.
“Mariel wanted to share the truth,” Kopple continues. “She was raw, brave and honest.”
Although the film focuses on the heavy subject of pain and depression, it is also a film about hope. Mariel’s story is “about breaking destructive cycles and taking control of one’s own fate,” says Kopple. Perhaps “a lesser person would have succumbed to a family legacy as damaging and heavy as the one Mariel was born into.”
Mariel Hemingway adds: "The whole process was incredibly healing for me. I am grateful to have done [the film] and it confirms the fact that when you speak out and talk about something, you have an open window to heal yourself and those you love."
During her research, Kopple unearthed some archival film of the family, something that Mariel had no idea even existed. “When she saw this footage for the first time she was blown away,” says Kopple. This great find “allowed us to bring Mariel’s immediate family to life again.”
When Mariel viewed the footage, she "was so moved to see how pained every one of my family members appeared to be," Mariel says. "Sometimes I had wondered ... if I was imagining the depth of everyone's pain and dysfunction."
As a documentarian, Kopple is used to finding unexpected things during the filmmaking process, allowing her to “take a journey alongside the characters,” she says.
Another of Kopple’s documentaries, "Force of Nature," followed Clevelander Ellen Ratner on her philanthropic endeavors, screened at last year’s CIFF. Kopple loves her work and is always looking for “material that is rich, beautiful and explores the human spirit.”
“No two stories are the same,” she continues. "And that gives me great energy to dig into each new film I take on with the same enthusiasm as the last.”
– Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo: Bobby Williams, left, and Mariel Hemingway, right. Photo by Janet Macoska.
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