by Bill Stamets

Batkid Begins: do good and feel good and be heroes just for one day

Posted in Uncategorized by Bill Stamets on July 12, 2015

Batkid Begins
directed by Dana Nachman
written by Dana Nachman & Kurt Kuenne
edited by Kurt Kuenne
presented by New Line Cinema
distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Five-year-old Miles Scott– his lymphoblastic leukemia in remission– spent November 15, 2013 dashing around San Francisco in a black suit and a black Lamborghini defeating costumed foes of the DC Comics character Batman. Make-A-Wish® Greater Bay Area (“We make wishes come true”) staged all this for the little boy from Siskiyou County who told the foundation: “I wish to be the real Batman.”

After The Riddler and The Penguin were cuffed by uniformed SFPD officers, a United States Attorney read a criminal indictment of the two “enemies of Gotham” issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Gotham Division. At a City Hall rally an estimated 20,000 San Franciscans and out-of-towners cheered as Mayor Ed Lee handed Batkid a key to Gotham City. President Barack Obama sent a four-second shout-out: “Way to go, Miles. Way to save Gotham.”

Two months later Make-A-Wish® Greater Bay Area posted on YouTube “Batkid: The Official Make-A-Wish Story,” a ten-minute video that John Crane Films made for the tax-exempt organization. Viewers at the charity’s site are invited to “Join the conversation.” Complete this sentence by clicking on one of three adjectives: “This story makes me feel Hopeful/ Reflective/ Inspired.”

A negative feeling is unthinkable. After all, 96% of the 555,697 Tweets were “positive.” A four-minute video posted by “How Clever Girls Collective Helped #Batkid Save The Day” claims 720 million people in 117 countries noticed. This self-tagged “social media influencer and content agency” tallied two billion “impressions” online. “#SFBatKid is trending number one in the world,” a Clever Girl announced.

A story we simply love,” cooed Diane Sawyer on ABC World News on November 15, 2013. Crane intercut clips from CBS, CNN and NBC too, with footage shot by his crew of 12.

On “Batkid Begins”– a 2015 feature-length documentary directed by Dana Nachman– Crane is credited as a story consultant and co-executive producer, along with Ian Reinhard, who executive-produced 26 episodes of the “Hollywood Uncensored” series and the 2005 documentary “24 Hours on Craigslist.” Nachman’s prior credits include the 2013 documentary “The Human Experiment” that asked: “With thousands of untested chemicals in our everyday products, have we all become unwitting guinea pigs in one giant human experiment?”

“Batkid Begins” spotlights Patricia Wilson, the can-do executive director of Make-A-Wish® Greater Bay Area. She says she fielded 156 interview requests, and her site peaked at 1400 hits per second. And at the end of the day she had 7189 unread emails. She tells us some callers simply left joyful sobs in her voicemail.

Nachman packages the uplifting day of wish fulfilling as a promo video for Wilson’s foundation. The first such wish granted was in 1980 when a 7-year-old boy with leukemia got to play cop with the help of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. That boy died, but Make-A-Wish states that 80% of its kids “reach adulthood.” To qualify, wishers must be between the ages of two-and-a-half and 18, and “diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions— a progressive, degenerative or malignant condition that has placed the child’s life in jeopardy.”

Partly funded by an Indiegogo outreach that netted $109,630, “Batkid” dotes on logistics of generosity. High-powered players include Katie Cotton, who was at the time was Apple’s vice president of worldwide communications. “Normally as the Chief of Police I’m not in favor of flash mobs,” Greg Suhr informed citizens assembled outside City Hall. He concedes this one was  “cool.” He prerecorded several video pleas to Batkid to save Gotham.

Last March Variety reported that Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema got rights to Nachman’s documentary, originally titled “Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around The World” for its premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah. For a fictional adaptation, Julia Roberts is scheduled to star as Wilson, who told a TEDxBayArea audience last December that she is known around her office as the Bitch in Charge.

Wilson acknowledges it’s hard to take the Batkid phenomenon as non-fiction. During an interview in the documentary she recounts hearing that construction crews joined throngs in Union Square to wave at Miles on his lunch break at Burger Bar on Geary Street. ”It was like one of those really cheesy Hallmark shows on TV,” cracks Wilson.

“Batkid Begins” begins with a sunny cityscape shot from the air. On a soundtrack abuzz with soundbites from real or simulated newscasts, one voices the consensus sentiment: “Well, this must be the feel good story of the year.” As the camera tracks a sidewalk crowd, we hear a line from the Scala & Kolacny Brothers choral cover of the David Bowie and Brian Eno song “Heroes” from 1977: “We can be heroes, just for one day.” That ethereally breathed lyric applies both to Miles in the guise of Gotham’s savior, and the league of volunteers, donors and onlookers– online and on the streets of San Francisco.

Publicists pose a two-part question this aspirational documentary cannot answer: “Did Miles need the world for inspiration? Or did the world need Miles?” For me, “Batkid Begins” could be about more than a boy’s wish to play a comic book hero and all the things he made so many people feel on November 15, 2013. Although it’s not likely her intent in chronicling that media spectacle, Nachman underscores social interactions transcending metrics of blood cell counts and Instagram hashtag hits.

Wilson and her Make-A-Wish team do what we all do. We make up things to make life better for others. Everyone around us makes-our-day through play-acting. More or less thoughtfully and truthfully. In San Francisco, Siskiyou County and society at large.

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