New film chronicles Mariel Hemingway’s fight to escape family’s legacy of suicide

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator, Feb. 28, 2013

Mariel Hemingway

Mariel Hemingway

The new documentary Running from Crazy, chronicles the life of Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of the famous novelist Ernest Hemingway. Focusing on Mariel’s personal history of mental illness, drug addiction and the suicides of seven relatives, including her sister Margaux and grandfather, the film offers a poignant look into one of America’s most well-known families.

Directed by Barbara Kopple, two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker (for the 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA, and the 1990 documentary American Dream), the film places an emphasis on suicide awareness and the importance of mental health evaluations. Both Mariel and Barbara hope that the film offers hope for people living with mental illness by showing that they are not alone in their struggles.

The film is currently only showing at festivals around the country but the film is awaiting a theatrical release later this year (check the film’s Facebook and Twitter to stay updated about festivals and when it will appear in theaters).

NAMI recently spoke with Mariel and Barbara about the film and what they hope viewers take away from the film.

NAMI’s Conversation with Mariel Hemingway

NAMI: What significance does the title Running from Crazy have for you? 

Hemingway: Running From Crazy was a powerful journey for me. I wanted to share my story as a way for others to realize no matter what and where you come from everyone has a story and some relationship to mental instability. I am a Hemingway and have struggled with depression and craziness in my family but I believe that we all share similar stories. I want others to feel supported and the stigma of mental illness to be obliterated. The more we have a dialogue about this issue the better for everyone. Also the positive take away is my belief, based on my experience, that our lifestyle informs our mental wellness is a strong message. The WillingWay, my passion business created by my partner Bobby Williams and myself, is a way to help others take charge of their mental physical and spiritual well-being.

In filming the documentary, did you discover anything about yourself or your family? 

I realized that my sister, Margaux was in the deepest pain… I thought I understood her but in watching the film and seeing some of the 43 hours of unseen footage of my sister’s, that Barbara found, was eye opening to the tremendous pain she was in throughout her life. I am also very aware of how our actions and thoughts paint the way we show up in the world. We have to be incredibly mindful of everything we do in our lives as it affects everything else; how you do one thing is how you do everything.

What do you hope sharing your story does for others who are living with mental illness as well as the general public?  

I want others to feel they are embraced and seen. I want them to know we all share a similar story that we can talk about the pain and fears we have and get through them. Plus if we look at the way we live then we have a real chance of reversing the devastation of mental illness. If we take the i from illness and replace it with We, we have Wellness. That is when we as a community come together and begin talking about solutions and the power of people to make a difference in all areas of health and wellness.

How have your personal experiences with depression impacted who you who you are today? 

I am blessed as my lifestyle and the choices i make today which are highlighted in the book The WillingWay (which is in the film as well) have been the reason for me getting through and understanding the delicate balance of body and brain function… how we eat, what we think, whether we take silence and drink pure clean water, how we exercise and focus our life has the power to transform it. It may not be the complete answer for everyone’s depression but it is an ingredient to mental health that is ignored and it is profoundly effective.

What has been helpful for you in overcoming feelings of depression and suicide in your life?

The way I live… The WillingWay has been my saving grace. That is my experience and for me it works amazingly well. I want to share that with the public. See if some of what I have learned can resonate with others.

NAMI’s Conversation with Barbara Kopple

NAMI: Why did you feel it was important to make a film with mental illness as the central focus?

Kopple: Mental illness and depression is something that touches all of us, either through our own experiences or our loved ones’ experiences. Everyone knows someone who has struggled with this. The way we treat and care for those who are suffering from mental illness and depression is of the utmost importance and something that I felt and continue to feel needs to be addressed effectively and compassionately for the greater good of our society.

What drew you to Mariel’s and her family’s story?

The Hemingways are such an important and iconic American family with a huge literary and cultural imprint.  At first I was drawn in by the idea of doing a film about such a famous family and perhaps even changing people’s perceptions of who they were and are today.  Meeting Mariel and seeing her try to change the often cited tragic Hemingway legacy for herself and her daughters and also working to help and give hope to those suffering from depression and mental illness was truly inspiring and I felt worthy of a film.

Did you feel a burden in trying to do justice to Mariel her family’s story?

In some ways I did. Mariel’s story is at times intense, emotional and raw.  I was very lucky to have Mariel open up to us about her family history and share her story and her memories, though sometimes very painful. She was willing to explore her past, even the parts that were most difficult to speak about. Her bravery in openly and honestly speaking about her life helped to ease any burden I had.

I was also very fortunate to work with a wonderful and talented production and post-production team and we all worked extremely hard to put Running from Crazy together. The collaborative efforts of the many individuals who worked on this film were so important and valuable in telling this story and doing it justice.

What was the most difficult part in creating the film?

The most difficult part of making this film was trying to whittle down the tremendous amount of footage, both archival and verite, into a feature length film running time. The rough cut of our film was over five hours long and we ended up cutting it down to 99 minutes. We’re extremely pleased with the final outcome of Running from Crazy and we cannot wait to get it out there in theatres for the public to see!

What do you hope people take away from watching Running from Crazy?

I hope that people who watch Running from Crazy help to keep the conversation about mental illness and depression at the forefront of public discourse because it’s so important we talk about and address this issue. I hope the film gives those who are affected by mental illness and suicide some comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their struggle.