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15 Reasons To Live | Hot Docs 2013 Review

Zweig Somberly Celebrates Human Resilience

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.

Reviewed on April 25th at the 2013 Hot Docs Film Festival – Canadian Spectrum Programme. 83 min

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