Monday, October 24, 2016
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Directors Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady Debut Norman Lear Documentary At Sundance
Norman Lear, left, next to his wife Lyn, right, inside Eccles Theatre at the premiere of "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You" during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)
  • PARK CITY, Utah (AP)
  • --

Norman Lear was so touched by the documentary made about his life, he wanted to cuddle up with the entire audience at the Sundance Film Festival.

"If we could find the largest bed and we could all get in bed together, it would express everything I'm feeling right now," Lear, 93, said after watching the film.

"Norman Lear: Another Version of You" was received with a standing ovation when it opened the Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the film spans practically the whole of the 93-year-old artist and activist's life, professionally and personally.

It explores Lear's reasons for creating such groundbreaking sitcoms as "All in the Family," ''Maude," ''Good Times" and "The Jeffersons," which were based as much on his personal experiences as his desire to bring real, relevant subjects to TV audiences.

"Another Version of You" skips through time, unfolding Lear's story without chronological restraints. A theme throughout is Lear's unresolved feelings for his father, who was jailed for fraud when Lear was 9. Lear grew up between uncles' and grandparents' houses, and the film frames his work - particularly in "All in the Family" - through this painful lens.

Even more than 40 years later, Lear tears up when watching an episode where Archie Bunker is faced with the reality that his father was bigoted and cruel.

"How can a man that loves you tell you anything that's wrong?" Bunker pleads.

As much a history of the modern sitcom as a portrait of their creator, the film reveals behind-the-scenes strife in Lear's TV families. Carroll O'Connor, who famously played Archie Bunker but was actually a liberal, often challenged Lear over his character's abrasive manner. "Good Times" stars Esther Rolle and John Amos also argued over how their characters were portrayed. As the first black family on television, the actors bristled against what they saw as caricatures and stereotypes.

"You can have comedy without buffoonery," Rolle says in the film, which blends archival footage and old interviews with recent material and artistic re-enactments, with a young boy playing Lear.

Other actors appearing in the film include Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Lena Dunham, George Clooney, Amy Poehler and Jon Stewart, who told Lear, "You raised me." Lear's children and wife appear in the film and were by his side at the screening.

The title, Lear said, refers to a perspective he has long held: that all people are simply versions of one another.

"That feeling that we are one," he said, "has always been there."

"Norman Lear: Another Version of You" is set to air on PBS later this year as part of its American Masters series.