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Mariel Hemingway Film Plumbs Family’s Chilling History

January 25, 2013

Mariel Hemingway’s new documentary about her family’s mental health legacy has generated lots of buzz at Sundance Film Festival this year.

The documentary Running From Crazy details the tragedies that have come to define the Hemingway family, and Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon is said to play a strong thematic role.

Mariel, Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, counts seven suicides in the family, including her sister Margaux, who killed herself 35 years to the day after the author’s suicide. Another sister, Muffet, suffers from schizophrenia. Mariel Hemingway works in suicide prevention with the group Out of the Darkness and has been a crusader for awareness of depression.

The most startling revelation is Mariel’s assertion that her father Jack, the author’s first son who died of heart problems in 2000, sexually abused her sisters.

In a scene from the film, she wades into an icy mountain river and into her family’s chilling history. “Looking up at a mountain, listening to a river was the only time I felt sane,” she tells viewers. “In the house, everything felt dead. I would often crack ice to jump into cold water. I liked anything that made me feel alive.”

“Mariel herself didn’t really know what the family legacy was all about,” director Barbara Kopple tells Entertainment Weekly’s Inside Movies blog. “Nobody ever talked about [Ernest]. Nobody ever read his books. It’s such a personal story. It’s so raw and it’s still really unfolding.”

She tells Sundance: “What I do with a film is struggle to get under the surface to see the story behind the story and see what makes people tick and why they make the decisions they make. As I got to know Mariel a bit I realized that that’s what she’s doing in her life. She’s struggling to dig beneath the surface of her own family history. I was thrilled to be on this journey with her.”

The Guardian calls the film “one of the bleakest snapshots of the human soul” at Sundance.

That’s saying a lot.