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We just found out today, that “Forgetting Dad” is one of twelve films to be shortlisted for the German Film Prize (Lola) – the German equivalent of the Oscar – in the documentary category. Now the 1300 members of the German Film Academy will select the two nominations, which will receive a sizable amount of funding for new projects. The nominees will be announced on 11 March.

Meanwhile, all shortlisted films will screen next month in the new section of the Berlin International Film Festival “German Cinema – LOLA@Berlinale,” which is part of the European Film Market.

Here is a complete list of all shortlisted films (documentary, narrative, children’s film).

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 3 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 18 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 50 posts. There were 54 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 129mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was July 18th with 1 views. The most popular post that day was FAQ.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were forgettingdad.com, svt.se, facebook.com, rickfilms.de, and moviemaze.de.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for forgetting dad, rick minnich, forgetting dad film, forgetting dad documentary, and talk show.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

FAQ September 2009
1 comment

2

Clips September 2009
4 comments

3

Photos September 2009

4

Where to See September 2009
5 comments

5

Press Room September 2009
4 comments

For quite a while now, I’ve been hoping to have some screenings combined with workshops and/or discussions with medical experts and practitioners. But not until yesterday’s event in Würzburg did all the elements fall into place. 100 psychologists, neuropsychologists, psychotherapists, other members of the medical profession, and interested viewers from Würzburg and the surrounding area attended the afternoon screening at the Cinemaxx multiplex in Würzburg – quite a sizable crowd for a 3 p.m. screening on a Wednesday. Afterwards, I had the great honor of participating in a Q & A with Germany’s leading memory researcher Prof. Dr. Hans J. Markowitsch
from the University of Bielefeld. While researching for FORGETTING DAD many, many years ago, I came across an article about an English soldier with amnesia, whom Prof. Markowitsch had examined in Der Spiegel. When I was asked to discuss the film together with him, I leapt at the opportunity.

Rick Minnich and Prof. Dr. Hans J. Markowitsch


Prof. Markowitsch was generous enough to let me pick his brain all night long. I was hoping he might provide me with some more insight into my father’s amnesia, but he more or less concurred with the opinions of the neuropsychologist and the psychiatrist who evaluated my father after his amnesia began, and who diagnosed him with a dissociative disorder. Prof. Markowitsch was skeptical of the diffuse axonal injury diagnosis a neurologist from Helsinki made after seeing FD on Finnish television last year. Others present in the room, however, were more open to the DAI diagnosis, which would suggest that my father did indeed suffer physical damage to his brain, as he continues to claim.

Würzburg

Cinemaxx Würzburg


During the two-hour workshop Prof. Markowitsch gave later in the evening, he presented an excellent overview of the various types of memory loss, and how they might come about, whether organic, functional (psychological) or both. He presented plenty of brain scans, including some illustrating how different sections of the brain are activated by authentic vs. fictitious memories. Because he is often called in to give an expert opinion in court cases involving people who are supposedly suffering from memory gaps, Prof. Markowitsch has a lot of experience with malingerers or ‘fakers.’ He doesn’t see any indications that my father might be faking his amnesia, however, which some people think after watching the film. Unfortunately, my father still believes that the film is all about proving he’s faking his amnesia, and that I’ve been expending enormous amounts of time and energy trying to convince our family and the rest of the world of that. Hopefully he’ll watch the film someday and realize that that’s not at all the case.

Prof. Markowitsch tied all the strings together by discussing the various stressors which can contribute to memory loss – physical, psychic, environmental, biological, ethnogenetic – and how any combination of these can add up to cause the keg to overflow (the German expression for “the straw that broke the camel’s back”). Whether the amnesia is organic or psychogenic, the effects are the same. But different causes require different kinds of treatment. Unfortunately, there was no discussion of the stigmatism surrounding psychogenic amnesia and mental illness in general, and how this is detrimental in preventing and treating mental illness.

Rococo Garden, Veitshöchheim


As is often the case, some of the most interesting discussions took place after the official events. During dinner, I brought up a few issues which have always bothered me, and which we were unable to thematicize in the film. One of the major ones is my father’s relationship to his therapist Dr. Karen, whom he called ‘Mom’ or ‘Karen Mom’. I met her two or three times during the ten years or so that she treated my father, and always felt very uneasy about their relationship. He hung on her every word, and often seemed either unwilling or incapable of making any important decisions on his own without first consulting her. I had the distinct feeling that the goal of their relationship was not to get to the bottom of what was causing my father’s amnesia and to treat it, but rather to protect my father from all the doctors who were ‘poking and prodding him’ and to help him adjust to life as ‘New Richard’. They seemed to do away with ‘Old Richard’ rather swiftly, and Dr. Karen didn’t seem terribly interested in talking to ‘Old Richard’s’ family to find out more about his past. It always felt like they’d made some kind of pact, and the rest of us were deliberately being kept in the dark.

The various psychologists and neuropsychologists around the dinner table last night certainly perked up their ears at the mention of ‘Mom’ and were not at a loss of words about what all that meant. When I mentioned that my father once let it slip out that ‘Mom’ advised him against participating in the film because there would be too many uncertainties involved and the film could cause more harm than good, the therapist across the table from me said he could understand why my father followed ‘Mom’s’ advice. So can I. When my father told me that six years ago, I knew immediately the real reason for his resistance to the film, and that it wasn’t about protecting his and Tracy’s privacy, which is what he usually claimed if he gave any explanation at all.

So no big lights went off in my head as a result of this, but an environmental doctor present got me thinking about factors I’d never considered before – environmental stressors such as pesticides and other toxins my father might have been exposed to while working on farms as a teenager, and as a result of all our moves and renovations during my childhood. These accululate in the body and can be one of the stressors which can help set off amnesia. Unfortunately, very few doctors think to test for such things. However, biochemical therapy such as enzyme treatment can be very helpful in combatting these toxins and in helping rebuild membranes in the brain and increasing the flow of energy in damaged sections.

This doctor found my father’s complaints about his brain stem and the increased difficulties he’s had there since his heart attack four years ago quite plausible and not as bizarre as the doctors who treated my father at the time apparently considered them. Maybe his memory cannot be restored – if that would even be desirable twenty years after his amnesia began – but the tissue damage in his brain stem area could possibly be treated so that his extreme discomfort there could be alleviated and blockages in his brain reduced. This would greatly improve his quality of life. But would he be willing to undergo such treatment? Would he simply interpret it as another attempt on the part of ‘Old Richard’s’ family to try to restore his memories? At this point, I think he’d be happy if he never saw another doctor again.

A Franconian delight - stuffed duck


In all, it was a delightful event. I’d like to thank several persons for making the whole thing happen: Prof. Markowitsch for agreeing to speak and give his workshop, Herbert König and Gerhard Müller from the Akademie König & Müller for the fantastic organization, Hans Fuchs from the Hotel Weisses Lamm in Veithöchsheim for the excellent venue and delicious dinner (I was treated to the Franconian specialty: a scrumptious stuffed duck with the best dumplings and red cabbage I’ve ever had), and to Miriam Pflüger from W-Film for making all this happen.

http://www.indiegogo.com/project/widget/10389?a=38270
We’re planning a follow-up film to “Forgetting Dad,” featuring my brother Justin, who provides some of the film’s most moving moments. In this film, tentatively titled “Ibogaine – The Way Out?” Justin and I will travel to Mexico in search of a miraculous cure for Justin’s heroin addiction.

The project is one of six to be selected for the “Seize the Future Crowd Funding Pitch” at the prestigious Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK on Nov. 6, 2010. Read more about the project and help us get it off the ground by visiting our crowd funding site. Thanks!

Return to Kos

One of the many perks of being a documentary filmmaker is getting to travel around the world. Of all the festivals I went to with FORGETTING DAD over the past two years, the Ippokrates Health Film Festival on the gorgeous Greek island of Kos really stood out. (see last year’s post here) Run by the Greek dynamo Lucia Rikaki, who also runs the Eco Film Festival on Rhodes, the festival shows a wealth of films on health-related topics in the birthplace of Hippocrates and modern medicine.

Last year, FORGETTING DAD won the 2nd audience award, just behind THE ENGLISH SURGEON. This year, I got invited back to be in the jury of the medium-length section, and didn’t hesitate for a moment. It was a great pleasure sharing jury duties with Indian filmmaker/teacher/distributor Gargi Sen and Kos native Antonis Frouzakis, a notary and great lover of film and the arts, as well as a wonderful tour guide.

Gargi Sen


Antonis Frouzakis


The films were hit and miss (some uninspired TV docs, which is to be expected in the 40-60 minute category), but we were pleased to give out three prizes to films we all cherished: 1st prize to Michael Schaap’s THE ERECTIONMAN (a brilliant and hilarious film about dwindling masculinity and the global obsession with instant, unlimited virility), and 2nd prize divided among Pawel Lozinski’s CHEMO (a moving and beautifully shot observation of life in a cancer ward in Warsaw) and Juul Bovenberg’s A DEADLY DILEMMA (an intimate portrait of Dutch doctors and their terminally ill patients as they face difficult decisions about euthanasia).

Antonis was kind enough to take us for a midnight swim in the thermal baths a few kilometers outside of town. Floating in the warm water while looking up at the stars and listening to the bubbling sounds coming from below was wonderfully relaxing and a physical sensation I’d love to repeat more often. Antonis also took us on a drive around the island, where we took a dip in the Agean Sea near Kefalos and on the western side of the island. We also enjoyed a lovely sunset meal in the charming village of Zia on the slopes of Mount Dikeos. The views across the island and the Aegean were stunning and the food delicious.

Like last year, the festival organized a trip to the Asklipieion for a re-creation of the Hippocratic oath ceremony. The Asklipieion is the site of the world’s oldest known hospital, and is considered the birthplace of modern medicine. The ruins sure give off an inimitable vibe.

The festival is very well-organized, has a lovely and helpful staff, and shows every sign of securing an important niche in the festival scene. I might just have to make another health-related film and hope the festival will accept it so I can return to this island paradise.

By the way, that’s Henry Marsh, star of Geoffrey Smith’s THE ENGLISH SURGEON, speaking on stage. He was also invited back to Kos to be on the feature-length jury.

Henry Marsh

It’s been a tough go so far with the theatrical release here in Germany. With lovely summer weather and the soccer World Cup, FORGETTING DAD has had some stiff competition. Compared to the hundreds of people I grew used to seeing in the crowds at film festivals around the world, it’s been a bit disappointing to stand before only a handful of people in movie theaters here. But sometimes small crowds are a blessing. Such was the case last night at the Brotfabrik in Berlin.

I decided pretty last-minute to drop by for the last screening of the two-week run at the Brotfabrik so there wasn’t much time to publicize my appearance. Still, it was a bit jolting to see only three people in the crowd: a filmmaker, a doctor, and a psychotherapist. But we hung out together for hours afterward, discussing the film in great detail. Even though Matt and I did a fair amount of medical research while making the film, I always resisted learning too much about amnesia. I didn’t want to approach the story from above and know a lot more than everyone else in my family. Instead, I wanted to put viewers in our shoes so they could experience all the ups and downs of not knowing what’s going on with my father. It’s the emotional ride that interested me, not medical jargon.

All three people last night reacted very strongly to the film, but it was the assessment of the doctor and psychotherapist which left the strongest impression on me. Both were really impressed by our filmmaking, by the dramatic curve and the mood the film creates. They also felt that FORGETTING DAD is an excellent portrait of how a personality can become disturbed and what happens to families in such situations. In fact, the psychotherapist could imagine using the film in the training of psychotherapists precisely because of all the issues involving family dynamics which the film raises.

During the course of the evening, we got to talking about the rapid increase in the number of people going to some form of psychotherapy or another and the shortage of therapists here in Berlin. What does all this say about the culture we live in now? Too much pressure to succeed leading to an increase in the number of people suffering from depression? Definitely. That’s what the doctors had to say. But they were also quick to add that studies have shown that psychotheraphy is a more cost-effective way of treating many patients who spend years running from one specialist to another for various ailments which are caused by a mental disturbance. The psychotherapist spoke about how these visits to specialists decrease during the course of therapy as the physical symptoms go away.

This all led to speculation about the physical ailments which still plague my father: his equilibrium problems and ongoing complaints about pain in his brain stem, especially since his heart attack four years ago. Both experts were convinced by the ‘dissociative disorder’ diagnosis we discovered in the doctors’ reports while making the film. Physical ailments are simply part of the illness.

The psychotherapist considered my father’s illness much too severe to ‘heal’ in the 2-3 years that the doctors said it would take back then, and suggested that such unrealistic assessments are often arrived at through pressure from insurance companies that don’t want to pay for their sick patients any longer than they deem necessary. All this financial stuff was such a mess back then that I still don’t really know what to make of it all. The point is, according to the psychotherapist, if my father had wanted to get better, he could have. But something really deep inside him resisted and continues to repress unwanted memories. A lot of us think all the efforts my father (unconsciously) expends upon keeping ‘Old Richard’ at bay is what led to his heart attack and rapid aging.

Mental illness remains a tabu topic, but things are changing in this regard. There is definitely more public dialogue about the matter than twenty years ago, when my father’s amnesia began. I hope this trend continues, and that other families which find themselves in a similar situation as mine are better able to talk about it and help their loved one than we were. Maybe FORGETTING DAD can play some kind of role in instigating more dialogue. This has been my hope all along. Mental illness is horrifying enough, and even worse when you’re left alone as either the sick one or a family member and don’t know where to turn for help.

Shanghai TV Festival

(For tons of photos from my trip to China, check out my Facebook page. I only accept friend requests from strangers if you write why you want to connect.)

It was hard to turn down the offer of a free trip to Shanghai, even though I felt a bit like I was leaving my baby behind in Germany only days after the theatrical launch. But after all the excitement of my first trip to China last December, I couldn’t say no.

This time around, FORGETTING DAD didn’t win the main prize (I found out later that it was disqualified from the competition for being two months ‘too old’), but it was still a lot of fun being there.

As it turns out, FORGETTING DAD was playing in the Magnolia International Documentary Awards section of the Shanghai TV Festival, which is somehow organized by the same people who put on the Shanghai International Film Festival one week later. It was all rather confusing, but at least the documentaries, unlike the TV series and TV movies also showing in the festival, were given public screenings.

My escort Sandra

Here's my escort Sandra meeting me at the Shanghai Airport in Pudong


The first surprise upon arriving in Shanghai was that I was given an escort, who was under strict orders to keep an eye on me. She was a nice student named Sandra, who spoke broken English, and was very nervous. Before I’d even gathered my bearings, she was eager to know where I wanted to go when, so she could book the car service, which had to be arranged a day in advance. It was too much organization for me. As soon as I hooked up with some other filmmakers, we all joined forces to liberate ourselves from our escorts in order to explore the city on our own.

As the other documentary filmmakers and I experienced first-hand, and as we were told by the festival organizers, it was a huge deal to be showing documentaries in movie theaters in China. Such screenings are unheard of, largely because documentaries are considered strictly a television genre in China. Most are historical and very formulaic. One viewer after my screening, which was in a multiplex on the top floor of a luxurious shopping center, expressed her amazement at seeing a ‘real movie.’ I’ve heard that one before in one form or another. People are often surprised at the cinematic imagery, orchestral score, and narrative drive of FORGETTING DAD, and sometimes feel like they’ve walked into a narrative feature.

The questions were nothing out of the ordinary. I was, however, touched by a woman who came with her mother. She approached me afterwards to tell me how her mother had some questions for me. The mother never said a word, and I’m assuming the daughter translated what I said afterwards. Basically she wanted to know why I wanted to make a film about my own family, and why I felt the need to share our story with complete strangers. When I hear this, I sometimes don’t know whether the person asking the question is aghast at my presumptuousness at assuming someone might care about the fate of my family, or impressed by what some call my ‘courage’ in telling such a story.

Later in the week, I had the honor of being one of only two filmmakers selected for an extensive interview at Shanghai Television Station SMG. The delightful moderator, who introduced herself as ‘Bella,’ interviewed me for about an hour. The interview will be cut together with excerpts of FORGETTING DAD into a 45-minute portrait, which will be broadcast in a few weeks. (Watch Part I and Part II) It was all kind of surreal how she looked me straight in the eyes and popped one dead serious question after another in Mandarin, and I didn’t have a clue what she was saying. So I just nodded politely, and waited for the translation. Even after a year and a half of giving interviews and answering the same questions over and over again, it’s still sometimes difficult to fight back emotions, especially when the conversation drifts toward my brother Justin. ‘Bella’ was very interested in hearing more about him and his ongoing struggles with heroin, intermittent homelessness, and all the fallout of having to grow up too fast with a father who was more interested in being his play buddy than an adult role model.

Here I am with 'Bella' from Shanghai TV after she grilled me for an hour.

Although I spent an entire week in Shanghai, I never really felt like I got my bearings. The city is big and loud and crazy, and I found it much more difficult to find little charming spots to retreat into for some peace and quiet. I found those places in Hong Kong, Beijing and Macau last December, but didn’t have as much luck here. But I did spend half a day wandering around the Expo, which has some fabulous-looking pavilions. The lines were outrageously long, and I managed to see only the ground floor of the Chinese one from the inside.

I also got to ride the MagLev (Transrapid) to the airport. At peak times of day it travels at speeds of up to 430 km/h (267 mph). But when I was on board, it went ‘only’ 300 km/h (186 mph). Still, it was pretty impressive. It took two minutes to get up to full speed. Then we cruised for four minutes before decelerating for the next two minutes. Such a short ride. It would be fun to try it out over a longer stretch if another one gets built somewhere.

Spent some time at a couple of great bars along the Bund, and wandered among the skyscrapers in Pudong. It felt like I’d stepped into all these photos I’ve seen of the Pearl TV Tower and the Huangpu River.

On my 42nd birthday, I traveled to nearby Hangzhou to see the legendary ‘West Lake’. Unfortunately, it started to rain. So my Israeli filmmaker friends Noa and Rani and I hopped in a motorized rickshaw and cruised along the lake. It definitely looks like a nice place to return to in better weather someday.

I left Shanghai in a luxurious sleeping car with four beds (I was surrounded by women!), where we all had our own TVs. The ride was faster and smoother than any other train I’ve ever been on. When I arrived at the Beijing South Railway Station, I was completely blown away by the vastness of the place. It’s the largest railway station in Asia, and looks more like a monumental airport than a train station.

MORE TO FOLLOW …

(View the show here)

Talkshows aren’t exactly a mecca for documentary filmmakers, so it felt a bit strange to be invited to be on the NDR talk show DAS! last night. It’s a 45-minute program from 6:45-7:30 every evening, and features a single guest filmed in the studio without an audience. The conversation is broken up into little chunks by news reports and little films about this and that, mostly from Northern Germany – NDR’s home territory.

So I spent the evening on the red sofa with moderator Inke Schnedier, who led me through a praise-filled walk through my filmmaking career and my private life (my wife Susanne and our five kids), how I ended up in Germany, etc. It was all kind of light-hearted and superficial, as talk shows are. Yet at the same time, it was one of those rare opportunities to look at my life from the outside. It’s funny how much we take for granted and how little we reflect about some key moments in our lives. So I was all the more thankful that DAS! staffer Fanny Weiss cut together clips out of my previous films, and summarized what my filmmaking career has been thus far.

Strangely enough, Fanny remembered seeing my film HEAVEN ON EARTH on the German/Swiss/Austrian TV station 3Sat back in 2002, and when she watched it again, she was able to put two and two together. One of my the conversation topics during the show was to discuss one of the most memorable moments of my filmmaking career. While FORGETTING DAD was full of them, the one that has stuck most so far is my interview with General Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay. He was the one responsible for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

While we were in Branson, Missouri filming HEAVEN ON EARTH back in 1998, Tibbets and the other two surviving members of the Enola Gay passed through town on a book-signing tour. Without knowing quite how it would fit into the film, I seized the opportunity to interview Tibbets, sensing that it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. My gut feeling was right. Sitting only a couple of feet away from the hard-of-hearing Tibbets, who was 82 at the time, I was overcome by chills up and down my spine. But I stayed calm, and simply asked him to describe what he felt at the moment they dropped the bomb. Sure, it was typical military-talk about doing the right thing and all that. Yet at the same time, his body language seemed to express some second thoughts. Fortunately, my camerawoman Eeva Fleig let the camera run long enough after his last sentence to catch that magical look of uncertainty on his face.

It was one of those moments where a picture is really better than a thousand words. It was also, in retrospect, a key moment in defining myself as a filmmaker in terms of what kinds of stories I want to tell and how I relate to the people I film with. It was both eerie and exciting to see this clip again on the show. It’s part of who I am, even if I sometimes cringe at Tibbets’ words. But those were different times, and I’ll never be able to put myself in his shoes. My job is to let people like him talk openly, and find a context for who they are and what they’ve done to affect our world.

I guess I got to talk about just about everything that’s really important to me in my life: my family (I got to show off two of the guitars my eleven-year-old son Jonathan has built with a teeny tiny bit of help from me), my film crew (long-time cameraman Axel Schneppat and my editor and now co-director of FORGETTING DAD Matt Sweetwood; unfortunately no time to mention my fabulous soundman Raimund von Scheibner, composer Ari Benjamin Meyers, and graphic designer Makks Moond), and my films themselves.

The whole show flew right by. But I was in a good mood, and didn’t mind having to do some kind of memory test where I could recall only nine of the twelve objects which passed by me on a conveyor belt. (My oldest sons Jakob and Jonathan watched it on TV and got them all right.)

Who knows who saw the show. The weather was fantastic (I arrived in Hamburg early with Susanne and our three youngest children, and took a boat ride through the harbor), and lots of people were surely still outdoors enjoying it rather than in front of the TV. But it was a good experience. I got a kick out of seeing my sons Leander and Elias sitting on the other side of the soundstage watching me. On the way back to Berlin, Leander kept playing the kazoo I’d brought along for a little episode about HOMEMADE HILLBILLY JAM which we didn’t end up filming because of time constraints. Somehow it was a fitting end to a long, but enjoyable day.

Thanks to Fanny Weiss, moderator Inke Schneider, hostess Kim Argendorff, and travel coordinator Sabine Wittkowski for a great opportunity. And thanks to our publicist Nina Schattkowsky for making it all happen.

I was on Knut Elstermann’s 12 Uhr Mittags radio show this afternoon on Radio EINS (95.8 FM Berlin + Potsdam). He’s the movie king of the airwaves in Berlin and Potsdam, and it’s always an honor and a pleasure to be a guest on his show. He’s been following my career ever since Heaven on Earth back in 2001. On Thursday he also discussed FORGETTING DAD on his show. Both programs will soon be available here.

W-Film has organized a series of special screenings of FORGETTING DAD followed by discussions with medical experts. These events promise to shed new perspectives on my father’s amnesia, and will surely be fascinating to attend. Here are the details:

Frankfurt/Main: SO 6. Juni, 17.45 Uhr, Orfeos Erben, mit Dr. Hartwig Spors vom Max Planck Institut

Köln: SO 6. Juni, 11 Uhr, Odeon Kino, mit Dipl. Psychiater M. Flöter, Dipl. Psychiater G. Hoika-Messing-Flöter und Dipl. Psychiater B. Schoog

Oldenburg: SO 6. Juni, 17.45 Uhr, Casablanca Kino, mit Prof. Dr. A. Engelhardt

Wiesbaden: SO 6. Juni, 20 Uhr, Walhala Kino, mit Prof. Dr. Hecht

Berlin: MO 7. Juni, 19 Uhr, Sputnik, mit Prof. Dr. Niendegger (FU Berlin) und Prof. Denissen

München: Do 10. Juni, 18.30 Uhr, Neues Arena, mit Dr. B. Knab (Wissenschaftsautorin)

Leipzig: SA 12. Juni, 21 Uhr, Kinobar Prager Frühling, mit Prof. Dr. Konrad Reschke