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Cinema Village


(NR) Film Buff - 85 min
  • DIRECTOR: Justin Schein, David Mehlman
  • STARRING: Andrew Hoffman, Michael Ventura, Mayer Vishner

SHOWTIMES 09/25/2017 (change date):

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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



Overall Rating Based on 6 Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars
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Current Reviews
45 RPM
5 out of 5 stars

One of a kind.

February 10, 2017
The most compelling documentaries are those in which neither filmmaker, subject, not viewer knows where things are headed. That appears to have created a stressful situation for Schein, as Mayer maneuvers first for control of the film and then for control of the filmmaker. The partnership between the two makes for the great drama of the film. Schein clearly did not set out to make a film about a filmmaker's dilemma, and his discomfort is obvious. It was a stroke of freaking genius and a bold-ass move for Schein to let the film follow the story where it led instead of where he had planned. The story of the Yippies is full of compelling and amusing characters, and someone will eventually make an entertaining film just revisiting the hi-jinks and hilarity, cutting away before the bummers start piling up. If wreckage is more to your taste, there's a film to be made of that as well. Left on Purpose isn't either film; it's something much more interesting and original.

5 out of 5 stars

A haunting film beautifully rendered

February 7, 2017
Mayer Visner was a conundrum: passionate, witty, tender, fragile, strong-willed and irreversibly broken. Justin Schein chronicles with great humanity and compassion the tale of Mayer’s unraveling. Justin’s voice in the film is a compelling one, as it allows us inside his own pain and frustration as he documents Mayer’s decent. A beautifully made film that haunts me still.

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vermont raised californian
5 out of 5 stars

A suicide picture? Yes - proudly, poignantly and hilariously so...

January 30, 2017
You might think - a movie about suicide, i'll skip it and read breitbart instead -- but think again. While the culture goes to hell in a handbag, filmmakers present a gorgeous portrait of yippie gone to hell in a handbag. the result is surprisingly resonant for our times, for our own optimism and youthful faith in a system that seems to be betraying itself. audience and subject bind together & we are all a little bit mayer vishner. i found the experience cathartic. that's my two cents.

Carrolle George
5 out of 5 stars

"So unique a film just must be seen"

January 28, 2017
This is a deeply moving, gorgeously filmed documentary that gives enormous insight into Msyer Vishnu's philosophy of life and struggle with depression. But there is also humor and light in the film so the entire range of human emotion is experienced while watching. The honesty and courage of the creator of this film, Justin Schein, is remarkable as he struggles with issues that were unexpected as he begins this protect. A unique film, remarkable!

Upstate Film Lover
5 out of 5 stars

A Must See!

January 27, 2017
I'm so happy to see this film in theaters! I saw it at the Woodstock Film Festival and loved it... would recommend to anyone looking for a great exploration of morality!

Meky Gerard
5 out of 5 stars

Really Worth Seeing

January 27, 2017
I've actually seen this movie twice at film festivals. Each time I enjoyed it and saw things that I had missed in my other viewings. The movie really sucks you right in as the personalities and historical issues are interesting but then the movie takes a completely unexpected turn and goes in a direction you could never have anticipated. I highly recommend this movie.