Brightside Films: 5 Documentaries To Make You Cry
My husband always says to me, “Unless it’s a movie about murder or Nazis, you don’t want to watch it.” This quote usually pops up as we go back and forth for an hour about what movie to watch. And while what he says is MOSTLY true, I also leave room for movies about death, family tragedies and American history (the dust bowl, anyone?). Everyone once in awhile, a movie about a wild animal on a killing spree will sneak in there, so I’m not as narrow minded as he claims I am!
Needless to say, I’ve watched many a documentary in my life and I wanted to share with you 5 of my most favorite, sob-inducing real life movies.
My Flesh and Blood (2003)
This documentary follows the Tom family for an entire year as they pass through each season. The Tom family consists of Susan and the 11 children that she adopted, most of them having mental or physical disabilities. She also has 2 children of her own, but the main focus is on a handful of the ones that she brought into her home. At times I wondered what Susan’s motives were for adopting so many children as she was in a constant state of overload (her biological daughter becomes upset at one point as she believes that she is only there to help Susan with the kids and wants to have her own life). The point of the film is the kids, though, and Susan’s ability to give them hope when they need it most. We meet Faith who suffered severe burns in a crib fire, but is emotionally invested in looking like “regular people” after receiving plastic surgery when she is older. Xenia was born without legs and she lives without fear, chasing after teenage love and optimism. The MOST heartbreaking child was Joe, who was given up by his mother when he became too ill to take care of. He is in the end stages of cystic fibrosis, which is a struggle, but his anger is the most difficult part to watch. When he threatens to kill one of the other children, it throws a whole new layer on the already overwhelmed family. I won’t tell you what happens at the end, but if you don’t cry, you truly don’t have a heart. I will never, ever forget Joe.
The Suicide Tourist (2007)
“I’m not tired of living,” says Craig, a retired computer science professor. “I’m tired of the disease, but I’m not tired of living. And I still enjoy it enough that I’d like to continue. But the thing is that I really can’t.” And so it goes as the film follows Craig Ewart as he makes the decision to end his life 5 months after being diagnosed with ALS. At 59, he ponders the possibility of living without REALLY living and decides to take matters into his own hands before he endures unbelievable suffering. Craig travels to Switzerland, the only place where foreigners are able to receive physician-assisted suicide. With the assistance of Dignitas, the nonprofit providing support, the film follows Craig and his wife to the apartment where he will ingest a lethal sedative that will end his life. The film comes to an end with a video camera perched in the room as his wife kisses him goodbye and he swallows the medication. The bravery and quiet tenderness shown between the two of them is forever etched into my brain. They both have reached a quiet acceptance as his life comes to an end. *cue the waterfall*
The Bridge (2006)
I’ve told people about this movie several times and I’m usually hit with a mix of intrigue and horror. Why would a person want to watch people jumping off of a bridge? Furthermore, isn’t it pretty shitty that the producers put video cameras out in the HOPES of catching someone jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge? Well, yes, these are excellent questions. First of all, let me clarify that if the filmmakers were near a person making an attempt they would actively try to stop them from jumping (and they actually stopped several). The answer to the first question is a little more complicated. No, I don’t want to watch people kill themselves. The whole point of the movie is that people are more than just their deaths. After finding footage, the filmmakers go out and find the loved ones of those that died to find out more about who they were. Naturally, there were tales of depression, substance abuse and other mental health issues. Added bonus? They found a man who had jumped off the bridge and survived—his interview is included in the movie.
So Much So Fast (2006)
At 29, Stephen Heywood was diagnosed with ALS (HOLY, sorry about all this ALS. Eesh.). He was successful at building houses and had a girlfriend who loved him. He also had a brother, with no medical background, who was hell-bent on finding a cure before it was too late. Stephen keeps working, gets married and they decide to have a baby. While his impending death is indeed sad, the Heywood family were upbeat and determined to focus on all that was good. You can FEEL Stephen’s desire to live just as you can FEEL the pain that you know is coming. I have also seen this one a couple of times and if there was ever a movie that could kick you in the throat and make you realize that your time is now, it is this one. His decline is heartbreaking, but simultaneously inspiring as you think to yourself, “I’ve got to get my ass off of this couch and go hike Mt. Everest!” Maybe hiking to the mall is all you can handle, but you get my point. I won’t tell you how he dies (it’s not what you think), but get 16 boxes of Kleenex ready.
Dear Zachary (2008)
I had just moved to Minneapolis and I was lying in bed, hungover, with MSNBC on (Lord, I miss John Seigenthaler!). Had I known what was going to hit me next I *might* have turned the channel in order to save myself the horror. I’m glad that I didn’t, however. This random documentary that popped up on cable TV turned out to be one of THE best I have ever seen. It is certainly THE MOST HEARTBREAKING. This movie is basically a love letter made by the filmmaker for his friend, Andrew Bagby’s son, Zachary. In a nutshell, the story begins as Andrew meets a fellow M.D., several years his senior, and they begin dating. His family and friends find Shirley rather off-putting (you’re going to hate her, too) and the relationship eventually comes to a messy end. Just as Andrew feels that he has gotten rid of her, she reappears and Andrew is found dead. Shirley finds out that she is a suspect and flees to Canada. While the filmmaker is collecting footage for a documentary about Andrew’s life, Shirley announces that she is pregnant. Everyone is distraught and the movie veers off, turning into the craziest true-crime film I have ever seen. Custody battles ensue, Andrew’s parents are allowed to raise Zachary, but then Shirley is let out of jail (WHAT?). I will not tell you what happens next, but suffice it to say, I was HORRIFIED. I am not easily horrified, so this is really saying something.
P.s. I have recommended this movie many, many times over and, inevitably, I would receive a call/text/talking-to about how I ruined this person’s day with the trauma of this movie. DO NOT LET THIS STOP YOU. Draining your body of tears is cathartic, right?
Have you seen any of these? TELL ME! What should I add to my list?