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The Independent Critic

Caris Corfman, Lewis Black, Kate Burton, Rebecca Nelson, Tony Shahloub
Gaylen Ross
76 Mins.

 "Caris' Peace" a Moving Film About Hope, Friendship and More 
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I still remember the first time I was truly welcomed onto the stage. The director's name was Dorothy Webb, and she was co-chair of the Theater Department at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. I had dabbled in theater before, but for the most part had been set aside and relegated to backstage roles in various tech capacities.

Then, I got to college where I'd decided to major in Theater.

"Ludicrous," everyone said.

Indeed, it probably was ludicrous.

But when I was cast as Ralph Werner, Studs Terkel's dancing tie salesman in the musical Working, an entire world opened up to me and I've never been the same even though I've found myself more on the writing side of things now as a film critic.

I was astounded that this intelligent and gifted director would allow this paraplegic to appear in her musical, a musical that required lots of movement and even dancing.

So, as I found myself watching Gaylen Ross's deeply moving documentary Caris' Peace, I'll confess that at times I felt myself slipping off the critic's hat and slipping back into that old familiar song n' dance that I loved so much. Caris Corfman was a Yale School of Drama alum enjoying a successful run on Broadway when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. While the tumor would ultimately end up being benign, the damage was done. After four surgeries, Caris was left with clear memories of her past triumphs yet no short-term memory at all. She sat on the sidelines as former classmates such as Tony Shahloub, Kate Burton, Mark Linn-Baker and Lewis Black became successful performers.

Caris' Peace is an engaging and unforgettable documentary about Caris' determination to on some level reclaim the very soul of who she was by attempting to mount, against almost unthinkable odds, a one-woman show with the help of her friends and peers.

Seriously. If you don't find yourself moved by Caris' Peace, then I suggest you check your pulse.

While Caris dabbled in film (Mazursky's The Pickle, Funny Farm) and television (Law & Order), she'd always been most at home on stage and had appeared in both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions such as the original Broadway cast of Amadeus, The Sea Gull, The Glass Menagerie and others.

This is intended as no slight whatsoever to the tender and wise direction of Gaylen Ross, but Caris Corfman truly is the reason to see Caris' Peace. It is her presence, her words, her spirit and her mind-boggling determination that makes this official selection of the 2012 Heartland Film Festival such a mesmerizing film. Caris surrenders herself to this project, achingly so at times, and in so doing she creates a film that should be mandatory viewing in virtually every acting class everywhere.

I truly can't imagine anything more painful and spirit crushing than remembering one's successes and gifts and triumphs, but being unable despite every intention in every cell of your being, to create it once again. With the exception of her short-term memory loss and the weight gain caused by her devastated pituitary gland, Caris Corfman had truly survived this challenge. Yet, in reality, the one way she truly wanted and needed to survive had been the one thing stripped away from her.

Beyond the brilliance the wonder of Caris's spirit, Caris' Peace may be as much about the power of hope and friendship and commitment. In that way, the film reminds me of Kurt Kuenne's Dear Zachary, another masterful film grounded in deep friendship and determination.

Caris' Peace, if one were to look at it only through critical eyes, may not be the "best" documentary of this year's Heartland Film Festival yet it may be the one that comes closest to capturing the true spirit of a festival that celebrates the human spirit and the power of one person to change a life and a world. Gaylen Ross, a longtime friend of Corfman's, began working on the documentary with her after learning of Caris' desire to begin living again. It had to be a difficult task to film, as objectively as possible, a documentary that on some level could have gone so terribly wrong. Yet, just as the miracle of Caris Corfman manifested once again, so too does Ross's sensitive and vulnerable direction of this remarkable story. Had Caris' Peace been more polished or shiny, I sincerely doubt it would have had the emotional impact one is left with as the closing credits roll by and you're left sitting in your seat in awe of this woman, these friends and this life-affirming and inspiring story.

Caris' Peace will have three more screenings on the second weekend of the 2012 Heartland Film Festival, and director Gaylen Ross will be arriving in Indy to attend the screenings that will include a special Friday night screening with guest neuroscientists from the nearby IU School of Medicine.

Catch it if you can. I know I'll be there again.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic