Ben Mittleman turns the camera on himself in advance of his open-heart surgery to make "Dying to Live."

Citing the old documaking dictum to “Turn your camera on your subject, and hope that he dies,” filmmaker Ben Mittleman turns the camera on himself in advance of his open-heart surgery to make “Dying to Live” — though fortunately, he fails to deliver on the latter half of his premise. What he records, instead, is a flashpoint at which he is assaulted by intimations of mortality from several fronts. His record of the events is often quite moving, though likely too disorganized and personal for much outside consumption. Limited L.A. run began March 14.

A former actor who discovers he needs surgery shortly before his 50th birthday, Mittleman makes for an engaging if unpredictable narrator, alternately hammy, irritable, tender and honest. He begins a video diary of his fears and frustrations — initially viewing the operation as a sort of midlife crisis — which becomes more complicated when his wife and mother are diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to graduate from actorly egotism to responsible adulthood. Unwieldy running time (far too much of it devoted to family albums) and extremely DIY production values will limit interest, though pic could resonate with viewers who have faced similar situations.

Dying to Live


A Homestan production. Produced by Ben Mittleman, Robert F. Landau. Co-producer, Meredyth Wilson. Directed by Ben Mittleman.


Camera (color, DV), Philip Cates, John Heus, Robert F. Landau, Valerie Crawford Mittleman, Ben Mittleman; editor, Robert F. Landau; music, Marc Chait. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 9, 2008. Running time: 110 MIN.


Ben Mittleman, Valerie Crawford Mittleman, Anne Mittleman.
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