Basilica parishioner describes directing ‘Love and Mercy’ film

| February 4, 2016 | 1 Comment

Basilica of St. Mary parishioner and movie producer and director Bill Pohlad will participate in the annual Mental Health Film Festival at the Basilica, 6 p.m. Feb. 11. He will show “Love and Mercy,” the 2014 film he directed about the life of Brian Wilson, lead singer of the Beach Boys. The movie documents both Wilson’s musical success and his struggles with mental illness. It illustrates his relationships with both his future second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, and his psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy. The movie was produced by Pohlad’s production company, River Road Entertainment. Pohlad talked to The Catholic Spirit about the movie and his experiences in directing it. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Bill Pohlad

Bill Pohlad

Q. What got you interested in Brian Wilson and directing a movie about his life and journey with mental illness?

A.  I’ve always been a music fan and I was also a fan of the few documentaries that got to give you a look inside the creative process of making music. I loved those because of my interest in music as well as film. So the prospect of trying to recapture that golden era of Brian’s music is really what intrigued me initially.

But then, the story [emerged] of the man and the struggles that he faced, the mental health issues and how he fought and how Melinda came to his rescue. Those elements really solidified my interest in it.

Q.  How much contact did you have with Wilson?

A. He was involved in the process throughout, both he and Melinda. Initially, we had to get his rights and his approval. Whenever you’re facing the prospect of having your life presented in a film, you’ve got to be sure that you’re very comfortable with the filmmaker. In the early stages of us investigating doing this film, I sat down with Brian and Melinda and talked to them about what my vision was. I was honest with them.

Getting him to be comfortable with my vision and with me was the key to it. Then, he was involved throughout. Not like you would think. He doesn’t have much ego. He’s very humble and simple. He just really loves his music.

Throughout the process, we kept him involved, to make sure it was going in the direction that was true to his life. It was a good balance of him being involved, but not being overbearing.

Q.  Why is this a good fit for the Basilica Mental Health Film Festival?

A. It’s a movie about a human being who, throughout his life, has faced some very difficult challenges with his mental health. He suffers from an issue called schizoaffective disorder. It’s not schizophrenia, but it has some of the same qualities of schizophrenia. So, he hears voices, he has different feelings and some emotional challenges and has throughout his life.

Q. How does the title connect to the movie and how are love and mercy illustrated in the film?

A. The title comes from the name of a song that Brian wrote during this period when he was in the care of Dr. Landy. Why he named that song that and what his feelings were at the time, one can only speculate on. But, it struck a cord with both Oren [Moverman], the writer, and me as being very appropriate given what the movie was trying to say.

Love and mercy are what he needed at the time, which is a reflection of the lyrics of the song. But, it’s something much more than that. That’s a little too simplistic.

Both the stories of Brian in the ‘60s when he was in his 20s and the ‘80s when he was in his 40s, [there were] struggles that he was going through and the reaction of people around him, primarily Melinda. She at that time in that era represented love and mercy to him. I think that’s where he came up with the idea of the song. We thought that was well reflected in the movie’s  title.

Q. Does your Catholic faith influence your creative process?

A. I’m sure it does. Absolutely. I was raised Catholic and I hold it close to my heart, my faith and my relationship to God. But, I don’t specifically or logically mix the two [faith and filmmaking]. I don’t live my life that way. My Catholic upbringing and my Catholic life is a part of who I am, but it’s not one that I hold out separately and do the things I do in my life specifically because of that. It’s just part of me.

Q. What does it mean to you to be able to show your film at the Basilica?

A. It’s exciting on a personal basis, as a parishioner and a longtime member of this community. I have a very strong connection to the Basilica, a very strong personal connection throughout my life. And so, it’s like coming home in a lot of ways. There’s some nervousness about showing it to people that you know or people that you’re connected with in other ways. But, there’s a thrill to it, too. I’m excited, proud and honored to be part of the festival. It’s really a great thing.

Q.  How did working on the film impact you?

A. It’s a huge learning experience. That’s what life is about to me, exploring and interacting with this great big, beautiful world and everybody involved in it. Interacting on a deeper level with some of these people, particularly Brian and Melinda, and getting to know them and what they went through and how they reacted to those things, and how they approach life and challenges, is fantastic. It’s a great gift to be able to experience those things. Definitely, you learn from it and you take all that in. It definitely impacts my life. The things that come to mind are things like Brian’s modesty or humility and, to some degree, his child-like innocence. Brian definitely has that. He’s not caught up in ego or the celebrity of it all. All along, he just has kept it very simple.

Mental Health Film Festival

The fourth annual Basilica of St. Mary Mental Health Film Festival takes place on four Thursdays in February at 6 p.m.

Feb. 4: “Brushes with Life: Art, Artists and Mental Illness,” featuring Philip Brubaker, writer, and Deirdre Haj, producer. Representatives from  Vail Place, InterAct and the Basilica’s mental health ministry will also be available for the Q&A session.
Feb. 11: “Love and Mercy,” featuring director and Basilica parishioner Bill Pohlad.
Feb. 18: “Iris,” featuring a Q&A session after the screening.
Feb. 25: “The Soloist,” featuring a Q&A session after the screening.

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Category: Faith and Culture