So reads the New York Times obituary that legendary anti-war Yippie activist Mayer Vishner asked to be posted after his death. Left on Purpose is the story of a four-year friendship between filmmaker Justin Schein and Mayer Vishner – Abbie Hoffman’s comrade in arms, former L.A. Weekly editor, and stubborn contrarian. What begins with Justin’s simple curiosity about Mayer’s intellect, values and the rebellious legacy of his counter-cultural generation turns into a dark yet profoundly humorous journey through what Mayer references as his “existential project.”
Despite years of therapy and medication, we first encounter Mayer in a deeply depressed state. He declares that he believes existential suffering to be as painful as physical suffering – and, in his view, just as incurable. Mayer explains to his doctor that his health is ravaged by years of alcoholism, that he is “dying of loneliness,” and not just fearful of but adamant about not becoming a burden to others. Mayer asserts his right to his “last political act:” the right to end his life.
Left on Purpose combines cinema verité filmmaking with archival footage to form a unique fusion that immerses us in a strong feeling of both the period of Mayer’s youth and the alienation of his later years. The verité body of the film is an intensely intimate portrait of one man's life in decay intersecting with the life of a younger filmmaker striving to tell his story. Archival footage of the anti-war movement and the Yippies transports us back to the days when Mayer was a dynamic actor on the social movement stage. Through this archival core we feel for Mayer as a passionate, vital and engaged human being full of ideals and desire for justice and peace. Home movie footage of Justin’s family in the present day accentuates the gap between two parallel worlds: of Mayer's inebriated isolation and the loving bonds of a growing family.
Filmed in a first-person, human scale hand held style, Justin narrates the film and his voice is heard in direct dialogue with Mayer throughout the film. In this way Justin both appears as a character in the film and comments on feelings at the time creating a dramatic tension as his internal dilemma plays out. What Justin intended does not always follow through in real life. As much as he might want one outcome, another takes place. The dynamic is fluid and everyone will be able to identify with the experience of an intense friendship with a strong and often volatile character like Mayer. As the story unfolds and focuses on their friendship, Justin more actively questions his role and responsibilities as a human being, filmmaker and friend. Should Justin stop filming? Or will this cause Mayer to end his life sooner? Can he prevent Mayer from carrying out his plan? Where do the limits of friendship and responsibility for another human being begin? And where do they end?
Tenderly evoking Mayer Vishner’s complex treatment, intellect and putting his rebellious youth in the context of his Yippie activism, Left on Purpose is a gripping, character-driven, multi-layered story that explores themes of care, the importance of being present to another, and the ethics of filmmaking. It is also a story about loneliness, addiction and the power to control one’s own destiny.
~ Q&As with Director Justin Schein and Co-Director & Editor David Mehlman on Feb 10, Friday at 5:10 and 7:10 & Feb 11 -12 Saturday- Sunday at 3:10, 5:10 and 7:10 ~
WINNER Special Jury Award, Berkeley Film Festival 2016
WINNER Audience Award, Woodstock Film Festival 2015
WINNER Audience Award, DOC NYC 2015
WINNER Best of Fest, Astra Film Festival 2015
WINNER Best Documentary, Florida Film Festival 2016
WINNER Grand Jury Prize, Destiny City Film Festival 2016