Alan Zweig won top honours at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September for his documentary filmmaking with When Jews Were Funny – but, I needed more convincing.
When Jews Were Funny – a doc on how a Judaic approach to comedy made its way into our funny bones – had appropriate subjects to interview, a proper conversational vibe about it, but its scope was too narrow. Zweig didn’t have enough material to make a feature length documentary.
So, while I was a doubter of Zweig’s filmmaking abilities, I wanted to be proven wrong with a second go. Luckily, 15 Reasons To Live opens this weekend and turned me into a believer.
Alan Zweig’s straightforward film was inspired by a list created by one of his neighbours. On the list were bullet points reminding everyone how beautiful life can be. Having never given full thought into reasons to live but fascinated with the list, the filmmaker set out to find 15 stories that correlate with themes found in essays from Ray Robertson.
Each story zips on by, but Zweig gives equal time and opportunity to each subject to inform the director and the audience of something that had a great affect on them. There’s a nice variety of stories ranging from pivotal life experiences to mini victories.
Each tale is loaded with honesty and vulnerability. Zweig has kept up with his interviewing ways and often converses with the subject between answers. He does so by making perceptions and finding parallels to his own habits. He isn’t shifting the focus to himself nor is he trying to manipulate his interviewees and making 15 Reasons To Live into something else entirely. Zweig is conducting his interviews in this way to maintain an intimate connection with his subject. A connection these people never could share while reliving their once-in-a-lifetime memory.
While that humanistic bond is developed, I can still see that Alan Zweig isn’t a guy for visual flare. The documentary isn’t interested whatsoever in trying to connect with audiences through Naomi Wise’s simple cinematography. And, when the stories are this chock full of authenticity, the more set-up cutaways involving the subjects acting “normal” as if they’re in the moment are noticeably fake and a little cheesy.
The stories may be on-going reminders as to why life is worth living, but movie goers are not conditioned as if we’re constantly being told to step away from the ledge. The doc treats its audience with the same respect it portrays towards the people on screen.
My review may be a positive one, but it’s understandable to consider 15 Reasons To Live a film you may not want to see in a theatre considering its small, basic scale. With TVO being attached to the production, it’s even more reason to wait out its possible television airing.
But, 15 Reasons To Live is incredibly uplifting and the cinematic equivalent to walking into a warm house that smells of fresh baking. It’s comforting to know a film like this is playing. You’ll walk out of the theatre feeling less stressed and a bit more lighthearted than you were going in. If that’s not a healthy recommendation, then consider me Adam Nobody.