Hot Docs 2017: Manic

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It’s apparent that Kalina Burton’s Manic is made with passion, care, and respect for the mental health of its subjects: Burton’s own brother and sister.  It’s also clear that an amateur is at the helm.  Burton has a lot to learn about pacing, structure, and focus.

The film opens with blunt white text on a black screen explaining the situation.  Burton’s family was buckling from the weight of the poor mental health of some of its members, so in an effort to understand more about what her brother and sister were dealing with, Burton sought out to uncover the story of their father.

The story hops back and forth between candid observations and interviews with her siblings and home video footage shot by her father in the past.  She interacts with her brother and sister, asking them questions about their mental state.  But there’s also an annoying abundance of armchair psychology throughout the film.  “Manic episode” and other diagnoses are thrown around by almost every character – including Burton’s young niece, yet no mental health professionals are interviewed for the film.  Some scenes border on voyeurism, watching a person’s mind fall to pieces in front of us.

Periodically, Burton flashes back to the story of her father, a man who formed a cult and fathered 15 children with various women.

Yeah, you could say that Manic buries its lead.  Revelations are sometimes communicated through on-screen text, classifying the person Burton is interviewing as “fathered 3 children by my father”, before we even understand that context.

This lack of focus and inability to introduce and develop the story is the most frustrating aspect of Manic, because it is obvious that Burton is passionate about the story – a story that is absolutely fascinating.  It’s just hopelessly mishandled.  There are even minute-long stretches of her father’s home video footage walking through nature, presented without commentary and seemingly without reason.

It’s a shame, because Manic has some powerful moments.  An introspective story from Burton’s sister is a fascinating look into undeserved shame.  A confrontation between Burton’s mother and brother develops an observational aesthetic as Burton focuses on her youngest brother while tears creep into his eyes.

There’s a beautiful story here, but it seems like Burton just can’t find it.

Screens:
Monday, May 1, 10:15 AM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Saturday, May 6, 8:00 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.