Two-time Oscar®-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple sits down for a revealing Q&A about her latest documentary, Running from Crazy, which explores the life of actress Mariel Hemingway, her family history of suicide and mental illness.
Q: What is your personal connection to the film Running from Crazy?
A: My son's half brother committed suicide. His name was Evan Scott Perry. He leaped from a window headfirst. And Nick, who's my son, and I went over to the house when we heard about it, and the window was wide open. And there was a computer open, and we looked at the computer, and it was "six reasons to live and six reasons to die"—the suicide note came up. And my son, who is so smart and so wonderful, just said, "I wish I had known. I would have talked to Evan because I go through these same things myself." My son is now a resident doing psychiatry at St. Luke's-Roosevelt, and he does adolescents and young people because he feels like there's hope for them. So there's a very strong, personal connection to all of this.

Q: What is one reason everyone should see this documentary?
A: There are too many to name just one reason. It's raw; it's courageous; it's personal. Mariel just lays everything on the line. You learn so much about this family. You learn about pain, and you learn about joy. You learn about wonder. And also, it's so important to discuss mental illness, because if we don't discuss it, we'll never be able to heal people.

Q: You are able to get people to open up about all sorts of things. What's the one question you ask to get people to tell the truth?
A: There isn't one question or one formula. When you're asking people to be real with you, you have to be real with them. You have to go into their world without an agenda, with a caring for who they are, a passion for what they're about. And if people feel that, they'll talk to you. They'll let you know their deep, dark secrets, and you just have to be responsible and trustworthy enough to do good things with them.

Q: What do you think is the hardest truth to tell?
A: I think that the hardest truth to tell is to do work that you believe in. To do work that when people see it, you can say, this is really what happened. I would never exploit anybody. I would never change a piece to make it look as if it was something else. I think being honest and allowing your subject to bloom and making it the most comfortable, best situation for somebody is the hardest truth. And if I can do that in my life, I will have succeeded.

Q: What, if any, footage from Running from Crazy ended up on the cutting room floor that you wish you'd kept in?
A: A lot of footage ended up on the cutting room floor. I could tell you lots of stories about the footage, but I think that once you release something, it makes the film tighter. It makes it fly. It allows it to be seamless. So once you give up one of your babies, it really helps to pull the story along. We have wonderful scenes of the overeaters club, where Mariel went to the overeaters club, and she was kicked out because she ate too many bowls of salad. [We have footage of] Mariel's birthday party, where it was supposed to be a surprise, and she had to act surprised. All her friends were there, and she had never had a birthday party before, and how emotional and meaningful that was. There are many, many scenes and many, many moments that you'll see in the DVD extras.

Q: What are the words you live by personally?
A: I'm very curious, I love life and I adore people. So whenever I can be put in a situation where I can relate to somebody gives me the greatest joy and the great excitement. So as cliché as it is, living life to its fullest. Never saying no; saying yes when you're in doubt.

Q: You talk a lot about perfection in the film, and Mariel says, "Perfection is in the chaos." How would you define perfection?
A: I don't think there's anything that's perfect. I think what makes us all wonderful and unique is all the things that are imperfect about us. All the human things. All the things that we think about that we want to improve, we want to do, the things that make us special as people.