Praying With Lior and Labors of Love

Last night I saw Praying with Lior, a documentary about the bar mitzvah of a boy with Down’s Syndrome. Easily the best movie I’ve seen this year, better than There Will Be Blood, Mary Poppins (leaving aside the great song Feed the Birds), Blade Runner, and several documentaries, for example. I asked a friend why she liked the TV show ER. “It makes you feel happy and sad,” she said. Praying for Lior made me sad again and again, which is part of why I liked it so much. I also liked seeing someone with a handicap struggle and succeed; Praying with Lior has a lot in common with My Left Foot, one of my favorite movies.

The person responsible for the film is Ilana Tractman, who met Lior at a religious retreat. Her day job is making television documentaries. She got the money to make the film — from a large number of foundations and people — while she was making it. As far as I can tell, she had almost total freedom, in contrast to her TV documentaries. I use the term superhobby to describe activities that combine the skills and resources of a professional with the freedom of a hobbyist. All of the blogs I read regularly are superhobbies. My self-experimentation was (and is) a superhobby. Writing open-source software is a superhobby. Most books are superhobbies. When a superhobby produces art, we call the product a labor of love. As we get richer and richer — thus can afford more freedom — and skills and knowledge improve, these labors of love become better, more possible, and more common.

The Praying with Lior website revealed to me that the film had/has a “mission”: “to change the way people with disabilities are perceived and received by faith communities.” Perhaps that is another reason why such a good film was made: This purpose helped it get funding and other help (a lot of people worked on it). And maybe it was part of why Ms. Tractman began and continued a difficult and uncertain project.