Producer / Director Mickey Lemle talks about
documentarian difficulties and rewards and Ram Dass’ reaction to his film.
How did making the film
change the way you thought about Ram Dass?
One of the themes in RAM DASS FIERCE
GRACE is something that is consistent in each of the diverse phases in Ram
Dass' life: that much of our reality is a projection of the mind. As a
psychologist at Harvard, as a pioneering researcher with psychedelics, as a
student and practitioner of Eastern wisdom traditions, and now, as a person
dealing with the effects of a massive stroke, this theme keeps revealing
itself. I learned new respect for Ram Dass continuing to explore his own
How did Ram Dass react to
seeing your film?
When I first showed the film to Ram Dass, I
did so with some trepidation. My friend, [author] Joseph Campbell, always
quoted the painter, Sargent: "A portrait is a picture that looks just like
you, except there's a little something wrong around the mouth."
I know that the movie represents the way I see
Ram Dass, not necessarily the way he sees himself, so as he watched it for the
first time, I watched him. I had seen the movie thousands of times, I knew how
it was going to end. He laughed, he cried several times, he was compassionate
with himself as his on-screen persona struggled to find a word because of his
aphasia. After it was over, he was quiet for a long while. Then he said, "You
seem to have captured my Guru's most profound teachings. It's as if it were a
transmission from him to me to you and into the film." I thought, "I'll take
The next day he was not so happy. He said to
me, "You left a lot out: Stanford [where he received his doctorate in
psychology], working on the railroad [with his father], all my books [there
were nine], and the SEVA Foundation [serving other people as a spiritual
practice]" and on, and on... I was, of course, a bit taken aback. I said, "The
movie is 90 minutes, what do you think we should have taken out in order to
make room for this other stuff?" He wasn't satisfied with that answer. Then, I
said, "Ram Dass, this film is not a 'biography,' it is a film about suffering
and the alleviation of suffering. You know that is what the Buddha said he
came to teach, so I figured if it was good enough for the Buddha, it was good
enough for you and me." He was satisfied with that.
What do you hope to achieve
with the broadcast of your film?
I hope anyone that is suffering—because the
winds of sudden change have blown through their lives uninvited and
unexpected—gets to see the movie. Perhaps it could be of service to them or
potentially change their relationship to their own suffering.
The independent film business
is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Making independent, socially conscious
documentaries is very difficult. There are times when I feel like Sisyphus,
pushing a giant rock up a hill. Whenever I speak to film students I tell them
to just how hard it is and that they should listen to their parents and go to
medical school. But then I tell them this: I can get an idea in my head for a
film, and I know that if I do my work well, it could make people laugh, make
them cry, and if they are ready, it could change their lives for the better.
Then, through my own will and effort and the help of great and creative people
with huge hearts and talents, I can make something manifest in the world that
would not exist without me. That is reason enough to get out of the bed every
Why did you choose to present
your film on public television?
I was happy to have my film broadcast on PBS.
I had a film I made first broadcast in 1968 and have had a relationship with
public television since. It feels like family. It is the best we've got when
it comes to free broadcast television.
If you weren't a filmmaker,
what kind of work do you think you'd be doing?
I'd be a chef.
What advice do you have for
If you could have one motto,
what would it be?
Form follows funding.
What sparks your creativity?
Trying to impress women.
What are your three favorite
Casablanca, And Now my Love
(LaLouche), We All Loved Each Other Very Much (Scola).