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Dying to Do Letterman

February 18, 2013

41+XoSj5vOL._SX500_When it comes to my favorite kind of documentary, it’s kind of a tie between docs that teach you something, and docs about quests. My own thirst for knowledge always makes me seek out the informational docs, but quests are often quite motivational, no matter how silly. MY DATE WITH DREW is a silly fluff of a film, but I’ve watched it several times. I think it’s just part of human nature to want to see people succeed in their goals, no matter what that goal is. They always inspire you to want to complete your own quest.

But the stakes get higher when you realize time is running out to achieve your life goal… or any other goal. DYING TO DO LETTERMAN takes the quest documentary to another level when comedian Steve Mazan decides he will give himself a year to accomplish his goal of playing on David Letterman’s show. That is one year out of the possible five he has left to live after he is diagnosed with cancer. As he says, Monday and Friday always come; “Someday” doesn’t always come.

This film becomes inspirational and motivational in about five minutes, and as the terminal prognosis is explained the audience not only feels Steve Mazan’s urgency, but he makes us feel the urgency in completing our own goals as well. A few months into his goal he travels to Iraq with some other comedians to play for the troops. When they all end up being evacuated because of a severe bombing which is too close to the area they are staying, Mazan notes that “it’s not just cancer that can kill you.” This fact is not lost on the audience. Death could be behind any door, at any time.

There is not a whole lot of suspense in this film. Steve and his crew have been walking around handing out pins and t-shirts during the entire festival, so we know he’s still alive and well (and apparently doing fine at the moment). The nature of the quest documentary tells us he likely completed his goal as well. The only real issues in the film are the difficult road he travels to get there, and all the hard work required to achieve that goal, as well as many disappointments on the way. As far as whether it’s a great film, there is quite a lot of exposition (although having Steve sit on stage while he speaks – as if he were at work – almost makes this work for me), and when it comes down to it, it’s just another cute quest documentary.

But audiences loved it. At Cinequest it was even awarded Best Documentary Feature in the Maverick competition, and Best Documentary from the Audience award. And why? Because it did exactly what it should do: inspire, motivate, and make people feel good about themselves when they leave the theater. It certainly helps that Steve Mazan and directors Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina were great presences at the festival, always smiling and wanting to talk to people, and were handing out swag: T-shirts and the yellow “I’m dying to…” buttons. Not only do audiences love swag, but those pins are actually pretty inspiring. I put a serious goal on mine, and I’m going to use it to inspire and motivate myself to make that goal come true.

So is it a great film? I say it’s a great story. In its own way, it’s also a great film because it does exactly what it is supposed to do, and it really affected the audience, which is a good thing. And YES, you should see it. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. I also wish Steve Mazan many years of achieving goals, and hope the film gets out to an even wider audience – I have no doubt it will, and that is great because everyone needs this inspiration and motivation to achieve their goals.

Don’t miss my interview with Steve Mazan (2011).

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