By Gary Goldstein
May 16, 2013, 6:00 p.m.
There’s something healing about simply watching “Free the Mind,” Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo’s gentle, compassionate documentary spotlighting the use of such drug-free options as meditation and mindfulness to treat anxiety and trauma.
Writer-director Ambo focuses on three main subjects: Will, an endearing 5-year-old with ADHD and a fear of elevators; Steve, an Afghanistan war veteran haunted by his stint as a military intelligence soldier and interrogator; and Rich, a former battalion leader in Iraq wracked by guilt and horrific memories of combat. Fueled by the subtle parallels between young Will and the adult Steve and Rich, the movie follows the trio through brief, life-changing experiments overseen by neuroscientist Richard Davidson.
Davidson, who founded the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, believes the brain can be physically altered by the power of thought. Thus he guides the veterans toward peace and happiness through meditation, yoga and breathing exercises.
CHEAT SHEET: Cannes Film Festival 2013
Meanwhile, Will, with the help of some wonderful special teachers, undergoes similar anti-anxiety routines plus other child-geared calming practices. The results for all are hopeful and inspiring, though their work is clearly not done. Affecting private moments with the PTSD-affected Steve and Rich, as well as with Will’s kindly foster parents, further enhance this nicely edited film’s deeply human dimension.
“Free the Mind.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills and select days at Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica and Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.