Norman Lear, the SFJFF 2016 Freedom of Expression Award recipient, is the subject of this moving, artful chronicle of the legendary television writer, producer and activist whose taboo-smashing series set the bar for a half-century of American comedy. Lear’s first Hollywood gig was writing sketches for 1950s superstars Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. He went on to build a two-decade string of television and movie credits. But in the wake of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, Lear decided to satirize the divisions ripping society apart rather than provide an escape from them. The result was the groundbreaking 1971 sitcom, All in the Family, whose working-class patriarch, the lovable bigot Archie Bunker, became Lear’s trenchant platform to address topics never before shown on television. Over the next decade, other Lear creations followed: The Jeffersons; Fernwood 2 Night; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. None of these efforts shied away from depicting the era’s pressing social and political issues: racism, rape, child abuse, gay rights. All were tremendously popular (the controversial abortion episode of Maude drew 65 million viewers). Then at the height of his fame, Norman Lear simply walked away. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s doc explores the reasons why, while eliciting fond reminiscences from Jewish comic masters ranging from Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner to Jon Stewart.
Screened at Sundance 2016