GAT at Hot Docs 2010
Leave Them Laughing
A Musical Comedy about Dying
Directed by Academy Award-Winning Director, John Zaritsky
World Premiere at Hot Docs
May 6 – Isabel Bader – 9:15pm – 93 Charles St. W.
May 8 – The Bloor – 3:15pm – 506 Bloor St., W.
When comedians get laughs, they are said to have “killed.” When they don’t, they’ve “died.”
In John Zaritsky’s Leave Them Laughing, a California-based Canadian comic faces her death as she lived her life, “killing” audiences across the planet.
An accomplished singer, songwriter, musical comedian and parodist, Carla Zilbersmith is given the ultimate bad news. Diagnosed in 2007 with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and given less than four years to live, she will leave a teenaged son, fans and adoring students. Leave Them Laughing is a 90-minute “pre-mortem” of a life lived fully, but far too fast. From her wheelchair, Carla vows to exit the stage with songs about life, quips about death, and a smile on her face.
For Oscar-winning documentarian Zaritsky – director of the controversial film The Suicide Tourist – it’s a switch in theme from the right-to-die, to dying right.
On stage, in actual and dramatized flashbacks to her giddy glory days, and on camera in her unashamed current reality, Leave Them Laughing tells Carla’s own glad, sad story in her own voice. Films of her last brave road trips to Britain and Mexico are interspersed with diary entries, travelogues, interviews and skits. What emerges is a portrait of a woman determined to savour every last drop of sweet life with spunky defiance.
“A journalist asked me what I wanted to do before I died,” Carla says, “and I quite naturally answered: Johnny Depp.”
She constructs a musical comedy about the nearness of death, a unique and compelling vehicle to engage an audience with a subject that might be “death” in the comedic sense. It is the ultimate challenge for a comedian, to squeeze laughs from suffering and pain. Underpinning the entire project is the message that Carla Zilbersmith is merely facing her mortality ahead of us, and reporting back with wit, wisdom, courage, music and love.
Zaritsky (http://www.pointgreypictures.com/john.htm), who won an Academy Award for the unforgettable Just Another Missing Kid, knows the power and impact of the motion picture. His previous documentary, The Suicide Tourist, inspired heated debate worldwide, following as it did the last moments of an assisted suicide (performed with the help of Switzerland’s controversial Dignitas organization), and the case of a Canadian couple looking to legalize their suicide pact. Zaritsky met Carla in 2008, and immediately saw the film in his head. “I jumped into high gear, knowing my time was limited to do justice to the canvas of Carla’s life,” says Zaritsky. “There was no time to wait for the usual funding process. For the first time in my career, I used my own money. That’s how strongly I felt about telling her story.” John’s filmography – .http://www.pointgreypictures.com/john2.htm First time Producer, Montana Berg, of Magical Flute Films (http://magicalflutefilms.com/ ) felt a personal connection to Carla and Leave Them Laughing. “My mother passed away from Cancer,” recalls Berg, “and I think all people being affected by some kind of tragedy, be it death, or whatever – can take away the message that life is meant to be enjoyed. Life is too short to spend it being miserable and it’s ok to laugh, no matter what. If Carla can do it, we all can.”
Carla’s outrageous and colourful sense of humour remains intact, even as her physical body weakens; who else would have the words Out of Order tattooed on her feet!
Leave Them Laughing is Directed and Executive Produced by John Zaritsky, and Executive Produced by Montana Berg. Director of Photography is Ed Matney, Editors are Scott Doniger and Justin Cousineau. Associate Producers are Kelley Busby, Liz Karlsmark and Sandy Handsher.
Aside from Zaritsky’s own money, Exec Producer Berg also tapped into her own finances, and along with an overwhelming amount of friends and fans who have made donations, which have made this film possible. Senior Editor Scott Doniger (Full Circle Post, NY) volunteered all of his time and equipment, as he felt this was truly a story audiences the world over needed to see.
Based on CARLAMUSES.BLOGSPOT.COM. Songs by Carla Zilbersmith and Music Score by David Ramos.