Sundance Up Close: Lucy Walker’s Powerful Short Doc ‘The Lion’s Mouth Opens’

Sundance Up Close: Lucy Walker's Powerful Short Doc 'The Lion's Mouth Opens'

Something remarkable about Lucy Walker’s short documentary film
“The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” which premiered at Sundance, is that in its mere fifteen
minute running time a stage is set for a story that will unfold over years — a
lifetime.

The title of the film, which evokes the unlocking of a
terrifying, unknowable abyss, is appropriate. The main subject is 32-year-old
Marianna Palka, a Scottish actress and indie filmmaker, who herself took a
feature film to Sundance in 2008, “Good Dick.” We learn that Palka’s father suffers from Huntington’s Disease, the neurodegenerative disorder that effects both
the mind and body (at a certain point in the film it’s ominously described as a
cross between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s). When the film cuts in, we find
Palka on the eve of learning whether or not she too has inherited the gene
mutation.

“The Lion’s Mouth Opens” unfolds in two acts: First, a dinner
gathering of family and friends, giving moral support to Palka (recognizable
faces are among the group, including Palka’s longtime partner, actor Jason
Ritter, and actress Bryce Dallas Howard); and second, the trip to the doctor’s
office, which reveals the test’s outcome.

Walker (“The Crash Reel”) mostly acts as a fly on the wall
during the film’s emotional discussions; she had a crew of two, herself and
cinematographer Nick Higgins. But she also includes some interviews, with Palka
and Ritter, who talk eloquently about the courage needed to confront one’s
fate. Palka of course didn’t have to take the Huntington’s gene test. But she
felt that knowing was inherently better than not knowing. She tells the camera:
“I said that whatever the outcome would be, it would be beautiful. And I’ll
serve that life.”

The film, Walker’s sixth at Sundance, could best be
described as a suspense tearjerker. Within its opening minutes it builds
emotions that many films struggle to capture throughout a feature running time.
It really stresses the importance of short film categories at festivals: Some
films are best served long, while others are most effective as brief fragments
of time, capturing the moment when the lion bares its jaws and the future
becomes less scary, more clear.

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Comments

Deb TerVree

I LOVED this documentary! I find Marianna Palka mesmerizing, courageous, inspiring and real. It has opened my eyes to a disease that I knew very little about and have been doing nonstop research on since I watched this film. Thank you for that inspiration Marianna and Lucy!

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