We are pleased to announce that LEAVE THEM LAUGHING will be screening at the Calgary International Film Festival on Sunday, September 26 at 12:30PM at the ‘Eau Claire Market – Cineplex Odeon – #2. Attend if you can. Otherwise, tell all your friends and please help us spread the word!
“Leave Them Laughing. It’s a documentary about a stand-up comic who’s dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
I think I sighed.
“But it’s supposed to be absolutely hilarious!” he quickly added.
This, I knew, was a movie I absolutely did not want to see.
Like a lot of people, I’ve had some medical miseries, and the last thing I wanted to do was revisit the terror and trauma of those days. I didn’t want to watch, against a backdrop of impersonal hospital wings, as somebody slowly disintegrated from both their own life and the lives of those around them.
Didn’t want to do it.
And my fears were not even remotely assuaged when my friend told me the movie was “hilarious.” No, in fact, this amplified my dread. I imagined a needy and unknown comic, somebody who never quite made it, now determined to exploit her own demise in a final spasm toward fame. I saw this person in my mind’s eye—up on stage, conspicuous and slightly demented, using the pity garnered from the audience, as the final, much needed and validating ego boost she’d sought her entire career.
Not. For. Me.
I saw the film anyway, and let me tell you, all of those preconceived anxieties of mine were completely blown away.
Leave Them Laughing is a touching, portrait of Carla Zilbersmith, who guides us into her final stages of the fatal disease ALS. Told with wisdom and humour. It’s an admirably restrained document, one that never begs for the love or sympathy of the audience, or descends into cloying sentimentality.
Much of the credit for this must be given to the Academy Award winning director, John Zaritsky. After reading about Zilbersmith in the Globe and Mail, Zaritsky visited her Blog, watched some of her performance pieces on YouTube and then called her to discuss the possibilities of making a movie. Almost immediately, as time was of the essence, they began to shoot the film. (listen to explanation in John’s own words at Hot Docs screening Q&A)
Zilbersmith, who lives in Berkeley, California, is a 46 year-old performer of ballads, comedy and self-parody, and somebody who much more than the rest of us, is completely capable of telling her own story, which she does with surprising wisdom and intelligence.
What I found so refreshing and unexpected about this film is that although the circumstance of her illness is the launching point, its not where we end up. The movie is about her. She’s a mother and a daughter, a singer and a comedienne, a sexually frustrated hedonist who’s pissed-off at her ex-husband, and a billion different other things, and although many of these things are influenced by ALS, they’re not defined by it.
There’s sunlight and joy in this movie, and although it’s a stretch to call it hilarious, it is funny and alive, and watching it feels more like spending time with somebody you wished was one of your good friends, than guiltily absorbing the misery of a stranger.
Maclean, Carla’s son and the love of her life, have an incredible chemistry . Between them exists a darkly jubilant interplay, and it’s touching and inspiring to watch as Carla tries to help her 16 year-old son grow up, and he, in turn, tries, in his way, to help her to leave hers. (insert mac’s audio)
The movie, which is stitched together with videos of Carla’s singing performances, comedic observations, interviews and snippets of her life and imagination, eventually forms a cohesive tapestry. We watch as Carla sings in jazz clubs, fully aware that with her diminishing strength, each time could be her last. We see her with her son, releasing helium balloons off the balcony, watching the “brilliant pins of colour vanishing into the sky,” We see the Out Of Order tattoos she got on each one of her feet, and we share in the astonishment of Zilbersmith, as she, so ironic and sophisticated, is touched by the simplest things.
In one such moment, she goes to Holy Land, a Christian theme park, where she plans to give a Valentine’s Day gift to the character that plays Jesus in the park’s daily flogging reenactment. It’s clear that she’s doing this as a satirist, intending to reveal the commercial artifice of the place in the face of her very real suffering. But nothing of the sort happens. As she gives her gifts to a girl clad in a period costume (who will pass it on to the Jesus actor), Carla adds that she’s dying of ALS, as a sort of comedic rim shot. Instead of awkward shock and discomfort, the girl exhibits grace, and with sincere tears trickling down her face, blesses Carla, reassuring her that she would soon be with Jesus. Carla had been expecting to find herself in control of this exchange, but in the face of the authenticity and profound empathy of the moment, found herself also in tears, immensely, profoundly moved by this simple, heartfelt and unexpected compassion.
The entire movie manages to confound expectations throughout. Just when we think we’ve found a safe distance from Carla’s reality, a feeling she might in fact be sharing, we experience her, and our, fleeting humanity with redoubled intensity.
After watching the movie I went to Carla’s Blog with the intention of, well, seeing if she was still alive, and if so, leaving a message to let her know how much I liked the movie. Quickly scanning the site, I saw that her last post was May 1st, and feeling confident that there would be future posts, hurried off to a meeting, thinking I would write her later.
Later, the director John Zaritsky told me that what I had seen was her final post, (listen to son, Mac, give reason for final post at Hot Docs screening Q&A) and that her health was so poor that her death was expected anytime, perhaps even before the premiere of her movie.
I don’t’ know, I don’t want to be too corny about this– as neither Carla nor the director ever got too melodramatic about her circumstance—but this struck me as acutely poignant, serving to remind me how urgent the world and our lives really are, and how essential it is to be present in the lives of those we love, and those who love us. (listen to son, Mac, tell us what Carla thinks of the film at Hot Docs screening Q&A)
The 2010 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival ended with a weekend full of awards presentations to the top films and film makers this year. Many of these awards come with cash prizes that help both seasoned and emerging filmmakers continue to create the work that moves us. Among the films honoured this year were two unique films that were in the top ten audience favourites at the festival: Waste Land and Leave Them Laughing. The latter also won the Special Jury prize for Canadian Feature. Poignant and courageous these two films focus on the smaller everyday battles we wage against the hand that life has dealt us.
Leave Them Laughing: Oscar award winning Canadian documentary director John Zaritsky takes us on a 90-minute journey into the life and oncoming death of Carla Zilbersmith. Once a vibrant performer, Carla has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and given two years left to live, however she is determined to suck every last drop of pleasure from life before she has to go. “‘Dead is the new alive.’ Now I know what you’re thinking: I was just being trendy. But trust me, it won’t be long before all of you start to follow my lead.” If you like dark comedy (as I do), then this is your film, it doesn’t get any darker than this. Created from interviews, footage from her final defiant travels to Mexico, the US and Britain, and flashbacks to her healthier days as a singer and comedian, the film centers around her and her son’s capacity for humour in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Just a year after the diagnosis, Carla’s body has noticeably deteriorated and so she has “Out of Order” tattooed onto her feet. This film isn’t as crushingly depressing as it sounds, nor does Carla pretend that dying is a laugh, instead the film eloquently points out when to cry and when to take things lightly, all the while reminding us to treasure the special days that come our way. Full of moments that are laugh out loud funny as well as those that will have you reaching for the tissue, it is a film that will most likely leave you reeling emotionally, not knowing what to do with yourself afterward. The answer is: live. Leaving behind this glorious film as a memento mori, Carla is currently teaching her parrot, who will outlive her, to say “This woman is dead.”
The Special Jury Prize – Canadian Feature was presented to Vancouver-based Academy Award-winning filmmaker John Zaritsky for LEAVE THEM LAUGHING (P: Montana Berg, Canada/USA), which follows mother, performer, and darkly funny smart-ass Carla Zilbersmith in her battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jury statement: “The Special Jury Prize goes to a film about an unimaginably horrifying disease that draws us in rather than making us turn away. The subject is someone approaching death, but the film is about how to live. We admire it most for bringing us into an intimate relationship between a mother and son without feeling voyeuristic or manipulative.” Sponsored by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, the award features a $10,000 prize courtesy of the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation.
Please join us for the World Premiere of LEAVE THEM LAUGHING in Toronto at Hot Docs (North America’s biggest international documentary film festival) followed by a reception (cash bar). Everyone is welcome!
9:15pm – World Premiere – Isabel Bader Theatre
93 Charles St. W.
11:00pm – reception following screening
Cafe 7 West – 7 Charles St. West – (main floor)
3:15pm – Second Screening – Bloor Cinema
506 Bloor St. W.
5:00pm – reception following screening
Insomnia – 563 Bloor St., West – (back of room)
Tickets to attend screening available at www.hotdocs.ca. Only a few tickets remaining so get yours today!
This is one of those films that sounds like a drag but winds up being poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.
Carla Zilbersmith has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and is determined to make the most of the few years she has left. She also simply will not stop laughing about it. Talk about dark humour – this comic-cum-singer does it like you’ve never seen before.
Her son Maclen (she divorced just after being diagnosed) supports her in inspiring ways, as does her team of girlfriends. The insurance companies – surprise – do not.
An emotional roller coaster of fabulous proportions.
NOW | April 29-May 6, 2010 | VOL 29 NO 35
Source URL: http://www.nowtoronto.com/movies/story.cfm?content=174720
“We’re here for a good time (not a long time)” is the awesome Trooper song that accompanies one of the most vibrant scenes of LEAVE THEM LAUGHING – and how appropriate it is!
The contest winners are:
2 VIP tickets to a future Trooper concert including meet and greet the band – Carol Topalina
2 VIP tickets to the World Premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto on May 6 or 8 (or a future screening) including meet and greet Academy Award-winning director John Zaritsky – Mary Jo Winkler
(Prizes are for tickets only and exclude travel and accommodation. Prizes are not exchangeable for cash.)
1 Trooper T shirt – Jesslyn Buss
1 Trooper Hot Shots (Greatest Hits) CD – Rose DuBois
1 autographed band photo – Vicky Love
1 autographed copy of John Zaritsky’s recent Gemini Award winning film “The Wild Horse Redemption” – Crystal S.
Due to some technical difficulties we have not yet been able to post the scene here. However, it has been posted at www.facebook.com/leavethemlaughing. Hopefully, we can get our issues resolved shortly!
Thanks for participating in our contest! Hope you had fun!
Spring has sprung..
It’s high time for some fun…..
We are proud to announce that Canada’s legendary band “Trooper” likes Leave Them Laughing and we love their music! Carla Zilbersmith, the hero of our film, had already rocked out to Trooper in high school. One of Trooper’s songs accompanies one of the film’s most beautiful, vibrant scenes. Can you guess which song it might be? Many great prizes, including 2 VIP/meet and greet the band at a future concert and meet and greet Academy Award-winning director John Zaritsky at the World Premiere of Leave Them Laughing at Hot Docs in Toronto on May 6/8 or at a future screening of the film.
A bit about Trooper:
Millions of records, a couple dozen hits, sold-out coliseums across Canada, a Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) for Band of the Year. The Vancouver Sun called them “Canadian rock heroes of the first order … the best performing band in Canada.”
The great reviews continue. In 2009, Peter Assaff of the Northern Light hailed Ra McGuire and Brian Smith as “the Canadian version of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards” and Joel Rubinoff of The Record wrote: ” … this frolicking, rollicking showcase for McGuire’s soaring pop melodies and whimsical wordplay is arguably one of the biggest Canadian bands of all time.”
They’ve backed up a who’s who of Rock including Aerosmith, AC/DC, Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Beck, REO, Styx, and many others.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Trooper has become a Canadian legend.
For more about Trooper and to research Trooper’s albums and songs, please visit www.trooper.com. You can even have a brief listen and check out future concert details.
The rules are simple:
Tell us the title of the Trooper song that’s included in the film. Please include your reason for choosing this particular song. You may enter more than once and feel free to comment on other entries as well. Don’t forget to tell us which grand prize you’d prefer. Both will be awarded as well as a number of additional prizes! Winners will be chosen at random from correct entries. Please note that everyone who has seen the film and knows which song it is is excluded from this contest. (We know who you are!)
2 VIP tickets to a future Trooper concert including meet and greet the band
2 VIP tickets to the World Premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto on May 6 or 8 (or a future screening) including meet and greet Academy Award-winning director John Zaritsky.
(Prizes are for tickets only and exclude travel and accommodation. Prizes are not exchangeable for cash.)
1 Trooper T shirt
1 Trooper Hot Shots (Greatest Hits) CD
1 autographed band photo
1 autographed copy of John Zaritsky’s recent Gemini Award winning film “The Wild Horse Redemption”
Increase your chances of winning one of the additional prizes by becoming a fan of Trooper on Trooper’s facebook page here:
and by becoming a fan of Leave Them Laughing on the film’s facebook page here:
Need some help figuring out which great Trooper song is in the film?
We’ll be giving clues along the way right here, so check back often.
This song is played at weddings and funerals alike.
Lyrics were written sitting on a big log on Kitsilano Beach
The song is great to dance to (but not the slow smoochy kind).
The song was released as a single.
5th clue: This still of Carla, the hero of Leave Them Laughing, was shot during the glorious scene that is accompanied by the Trooper song in question. Carla’s expression says it all!
Carla Zilbersmith having a blast!
Last clue: :
“And the sun is shining, in this rainy city.” (Hope we didn’t give it away, did we?)
Post your entries as a comment below.
Contest closes on April 25. We will announce the winners and post the entire glorious scene right here on April 26!
Let the games begin and have fun!
Here, There & Everywhere: Carla Zilbersmith
April 6, 2010
I’ve written dozens of obituaries for the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, some for close friends. No one, however, will write a better obituary for Carla Zilbersmith, who is experiencing the advanced stages of ALS, than she will do for herself. But an appreciation of the work of this extraordinary woman is an entirely different issue. And there’s no time to do it like the present.
I first became familiar with Carla Zilbersmith and her music more than a year and a half ago. My initial contact was with her CD, Extraordinary Renditions. I thought it was one of the most impressive vocal jazz recordings of the year and reviewed it favorably.
A month later, in October 2008, I met Carla, when she gave a live performance in Los Angeles. This, too, was an utterly engaging effort from a singer and songwriter who brought musical insight, intelligence and interpretive believability to everything she sang.
It was also one of her Carla’s last performances. In December of 2007, she had been diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) – also known as “Lou Gherig’s disease.” Which, she said, “sucks, because I hate baseball.”
“I’d really rather have been diagnosed with a basketball disease,” she told an audience shortly after receiving the diagnosis. “Maybe with Wilt Chamberlain Disease. That’s the one where you have sex 20,000 times and then you die.”
That kind of dark humor has characterized the way Carla, who is a writer, teacher and comedian as well as a singer — has dealt with the ALS over the past year and a half. Her blog, Carla Muses, has included a series of remarkable posts, filled with sardonic wit as well as explicit descriptions of the progress of the disease. Each post has been a stunning combination of sheer courage, outrageous humor and a passionate desire to let everyone know she was here. Late last year she was instrumental in creating a 2010 calendar titled “Always Looking Sexy” which featured sexy photos (including one of Carla ) of models with ALS, ranging in age from 23 to 69 – all of them enticing. Her latest blog entry is a pitch to sell more calendars (even though it’s April) via a film clip, created by Richard Ross, in which Hitler rants about the importance of the Calendar. It’s one more example of Carla’s extraordinary bravery under fire.
I urge every one to log on to her blog and read a collection of material that will amaze you and, hopefully, find its way into book form. http://carlamuses.blogspot.com/
Yesterday an email arrived from Carla’s friend, Kathy Sprague. “Carla’s energy level has continued to decrease,” she wrote. “She finds she’s better off when she spends most of her time in bed. In anticipation of her spending more time in her bedroom, her fabulous caregivers have strung up lights there and are decorating it with butterflies. The hospice nurse is most concerned with Carla’s diminishing ability to swallow and told us that she believes Carla has weeks as opposed to months. Carla wanted me to point out to everyone that she has beaten the odds before.”
I hope she does it again. The world is a much better place when a person like Carla is a part of it. But ALS has its inevitability. When asked how her friends would be informed of her passing, when it happened, she jokingly told Kathy Sprague that “she would put it out on her Facebook.” The real plan will be an email distribution to her friends which will include her own obituary, no doubt filled with her typical gallows humor.
When I received my first email from Carla, she described herself as the “jazz singer with ALS.” I wrote back, scolding her, saying her singing and her music stood on its own. We both were right, of course. The ALS was inescapable, and its progress soon made any further music-making impossible. But the singing she recorded while her skills were still in fine form is still available. And it should be heard by all who value pure talent. The title, again, is Extraordinary Renditions, and it’s available, along with others of her recordings, at CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon. A ninety minute documentary about Carla — Leave Them Laughing by John Zaritsky – will have its world premiere at Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto on May 6 and 8.