Filmmaker and psychotherapist Ira Wohl revisits his developmentally disabled cousin Philly. Twenty years ago the two collaborated on the Oscar-winning film BEST BOY. Now, at age 70, Philly gets ready for his bar mitzvah. BEST BOY charted Philly's move out of his parent's home into a group residence and followed him as he achieved greater independence. The first film did not simply record Philly's story, but actually contributed to his development. In BEST MAN, Wohl looks at Philly's life 20 years later and plants the idea of his having a bar mitzvah. This first-person documentary examines Philly's relationship with Ira, with his peers at the residence and with his sister Frances, to whom responsibility has passed upon the death of their parents. Wohl offers a warm portrait of the extended family and reveals the importance of family and tradition. BEST MAN is a celebration of loving kindness in the face of life's inevitable changes and challenges.
Ira Wohl began his filmmaking career more than 25 years ago, in Spain, as an editing room assistant to Orson Welles on his feature film of "Don Quixote." Returning to New York, Wohl took a job editing television commercials and industrial films, and at the same time beginning to make his own short documentaries. In 1973 Wohl received first prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival for his short film "Co-co Puffs," a documentary portrait of a jazz drummer giving a lesson to one of his female students.
In 1975, after making four short films, Wohl joined the Peabody Award winning childrens' television series "Big Blue Marble." For the next five years he researched, produced, directed and edited documentary segments which featured children who were doing things which were unique to their particular country. To produce these segments, Wohl travelled to places as diverse as England, France, Germany, Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Kansas.
In 1976, while still working for "Big Blue Marble," Wohl began what became a four year project. It was the making a film about the progress toward greater independence of his 50-year-old mentally retarded cousin, who, until then, had been living with and dependent upon his mid-70s aged parents. This film, which eventually became the feature-documentary "Best Boy" won first prize in every film festival in which it was entered: Houston, Miami, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, London, as well as the first ever New York Film Critics' Circle Documentary Award (created for "Best Boy"), the prestigious Ecumenical Award of the Cannes Festival in France, plus letters of commendation from the Governor of New York and the President of the United States. In 1980 "Best Boy" received the Academy Award (Oscar) for best feature-documentary. Since then it has played theatrically and on television all over the world, and, to this day, continues to have an extremely active non-theatrical, educational, institutional and home video distribution.
Between 1980 and the present, Wohl has written two screenplays, produced and directed for a variety of television series, among them: PBS's science series- "3-2-1...Contact!"; a weekly talk-variety show for teenagers on the Nickelodeon Network, and a one hour documentary-style, comedy special, with Jay Leno, called "Jay Leno: The American Dream," for the Showtime Cable Network.
In 1990 Wohl returned to school at the University of Southern California, where after three years he graduated with honors, receiving a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. In addition to Wohl's practice as a psychotherapist, two years ago he managed to combine both professions by producing, directing and editing a three hour documentary series on psychological diagnosis. It is called "Diagnosis According to the DSM-IV." This series, which, for the first time, utilizes real patients rather than actors and scripts, is now in distribution and a major resource for mental health professionals and students throughout the country.
Wohl is currently working on the distribution phase of his newest documentary feature film, "Best Man", the twenty-year-later sequel to be "Best Boy."