In 2005, a terrific little documentary called The Devil and Daniel Johnston captivated America and brought well deserved attention to Johnston, an indie musician with a cult following whose struggles with bipolar disorder powerfully impacted his life and his creative journey.
This film, Mars Project, has a similar vibe to it yet there's something about the film that resonates even more emotionally and leads to an even deeper examination of one's own definitions of creativity, mental illness, and this thing called life.
The film, now available on DVD with a tremendous packaging, centers around the life of rapper/performance artist Khari "Conspiracy" Stewart, part of the band Supreme Being Unit with his twin brother.
There will be those of you who will watch and think to yourselves "mental illness."
There will be those of you who will watch and think to yourselves "creative genius."
There may even be those of you who will watch and think to yourselves, "Yes. Mentally ill creative genius."
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
The brilliance of Toronto filmmaker Jonathan Balasz's 62-minute documentary is that he seems to make a conscious choice to not so much take sides as to simply celebrate the complex journey of a gifted artist and beautiful soul. Conspiracy debuted in the 1990's, but his career was at least modestly derailed by his being diagnosed with schizophrenia despite his own assertion that the voices he hears, in particular that of a demon known as Anacron, actually serve as inspirational guides for who he is and the music/art he creates.
Beautifully and intelligently crafted by Balasz, Mars Project could be described as an intellectually satisfying and emotionally honest celebration and examination of the creative journey, friendship, alleged madness, and alternative spirituality. There is a sense throughout the film of faith in the life of Khari Stewart even while acknowledging the many complexities represented through his life journey.
The DVD packaging being served up includes a director's cut of the film, the original 5-minute short, interview extras, S.B.U. & the Roots Story, a T.V. interview, notes from the director, production photos, closed-captioning (English), and 40 minutes of extras.
They're all pretty amazing.
Balasz instinctively knows that even while we're dealing with one person's story, we're dealing with quite a bit more. Mars Project isn't afraid to examine, if at times briefly, how we define mental illness and how we allow those definitions to shape ourselves, our relationships, and our communities.
There are films that you sit down and watch and find yourself thinking as the closing credits roll "I want to see it again." Mars Project is such a film, a thoughtful and intimate journey into the life of a man who has spent his life transcending the very definitions assigned to him by those who either understand or don't understand.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic