Thursday, July 16, 2015

‘Batkid Begins’ showcases the generosity and power of the masses

“Batkid Begins” (2015). Cast: Miles Scott, Natalie Scott, Nick Scott, Patricia Wilson, Eric Johnston, Mike Jutan, Phillip Watt, Sue Graham Johnston, Ed Lee, Greg Suhr, Hans Zimmer, Stefania Pomponi. Director: Dana Nachman. Screenplay: Kurt Kuenne and Dana Nachman. Web site. Trailer.

It’s truly inspiring to witness the outpouring of generosity, compassion and support for someone in need. That’s particularly true when these efforts are writ large, thanks to the energy, enthusiasm and empathy of the collective. And now an excellent example of such traits is on display in the heartwarming new documentary, “Batkid Begins.”

A cancer diagnosis is devastating news for anyone, but it can be especially heartbreaking when the patient is a child. When young Miles Scott was diagnosed with leukemia, his parents, Nick and Natalie, sprang into action to attend to his medical needs. And, even though his prognosis for recovery was good, there were no guarantees, a potentially cruel prospect for someone barely starting out in life. Being robbed of one’s childhood just seems so patently unfair. But, then, that’s what good guys are for, and they more than came to the five-year-old’s rescue.

Enter the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The mission of this nationwide nonprofit organization with chapters throughout the U.S. and its territories is to fulfill the dreams of children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. So, to make sure that Miles would have an experience to remember, his parents and the Foundation’s Bay Area chapter teamed up to make the young patient’s most heartfelt wish come true. Little did anyone know what they were about to create.

Miles’ wish was to become Batman for a day. As a big fan of the classic 1960s TV show, he developed a strong affinity for the action hero known for taking on the bad guys and saving Gotham City. Miles’ parents were actually quite pleased by this, too, believing that their son’s fascination with Batman’s exploits helped him psychologically in his cancer battle, prompting him to take on the illness with the same fervor that his hero did in matching wits with Gotham’s evildoers. The effect of living out his captivation with Batman, they observed, couldn’t do anything but help lift his spirits, so they were completely behind seeing his wish made real.

But how does a five-year-old assume the role of action hero? That’s where Make-a-Wish stepped in. The executive director of the Bay Area chapter, Patricia Wilson, decided that she and her colleagues would turn San Francisco into Gotham City for a day. They would stage an adventure in which the young hero, to be known as Batkid, would join forces with an adult buddy, Batman (portrayed by inventor and acrobat Eric Johnston), to save a damsel in distress (played by Eric’s wife, Sue Graham Johnston), capture the bank-robbing Riddler (Phillip Watt) and foil the plans of the Penguin (Mike Jutan) in his attempt to kidnap the San Francisco Giants’ beloved mascot, Lou Seal. Batkid would get his crime-fighting instructions in pre-recorded video messages from San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, and, as a reward for his heroism, the young Caped Crusader would be presented with the key to the city from Mayor Ed Lee. It was an ambitious undertaking, one that the organizers were sure would leave a lasting impression. Never in their wildest dreams, however, did they envision how much of an understatement this would prove to be.

In organizing the event, Wilson brought in a number of collaborators, such as Stefania Pomponi, founder of the social media strategy agency Clever Girls Collective. When Pomponi heard about the plan, she prepared an online promotional campaign that quickly went viral. Wilson, who had hopes of securing the support of 200-250 volunteers, suddenly found herself with more than 10,000 who wanted to take part. And it only got bigger from there.

Before long, support for the plan positively mushroomed. Make-a-Wish received valuable communications assistance from Apple and Twitter. The San Francisco Opera’s costume department was tapped to create authentic-looking outfits for the villains. Composer Hans Zimmer, who wrote the soundtracks for the most recent “Batman” film trilogy, penned a special theme for the event. And, to ensure the Dynamic Duo had a proper ride, the owner of a black Lamborghini volunteered his vehicle to serve as the Batmobile, complete with the hero’s famous emblem emblazoned on the front hood.

Support for the event poured in from all over the globe. Well-wishers from Norway to China sent greetings and words of encouragement. Public figures got into the act, too, including President Barack Obama, who sent a video message just for Batkid. Even the actors who played Batman in the character’s various incarnations offered their best, including Adam West, Val Kilmer and Ben Affleck.

On the day of the event itself, throngs of onlookers and well-wishers turned up at the various venues for Batkid’s adventures, with visitors from the world over flying in for the festivities. Needless to say, this created a crowd control issue for the San Francisco police. But, in the spirit of the event, officers volunteered in droves to provide their assistance. The result was a day that both the Scott family – and the City of San Francisco – would not soon forget.

Batkid’s big adventure was quite an event, to say the least. It epitomizes what’s possible through the conscious creation process – the means by which we manifest our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents – when applied en masse through the collective consciousness. So many voices lent themselves to this chorus of co-creation to produce a mass event of remarkable proportions.

This event was especially inspiring because it demonstrated what’s possible when intentions are applied to the materialization of a positive creation. Not only did the festivities come off as hoped for, but elements that might have potentially caused problems – such as larger-than-anticipated crowd sizes – never became issues. When onlookers were asked to move to make way, for example, everyone did so freely and cooperatively, never posing a hindrance to the event’s unfolding. It even prompted Police Chief Suhr to observe that, while he ordinarily dislikes flash mobs, he would gladly support such gatherings if they all turned out like this.

But, as grateful as organizers were for the absence of logistical hiccups, they were ecstatic at the recognition that came from the event, not only for the joy it gave a little boy, but also for the possibility it symbolized. Batkid’s adventure and the outpouring of support behind it served as a model, one that could be emulated for other charitable events – and not just those sponsored by Make-a-Wish but for those put on by any organization in support of virtually any worthy cause. One can’t help but view this and observe “Look at what good we can do when we put our minds together!” What’s more, those who habitually focus on what’s wrong with the world need only look to an example such as this to counter that outlook.

The event was also inspiring because of its inherently playful nature. Because of Batkid, much of an entire city that would ordinarily be focused on the mundane routines of everyday life suddenly allowed itself to have fun for a day. How great is that! In that regard, Miles’ contribution to the creation of this event – the very idea itself – was remarkable, reminding us grownups of what many of us have lost sight of – the need to play. In many respects, this echoes the sentiments of author and conscious creation advocate Jane Roberts, who, in collaboration with her noncorporeal channeled collaborator, Seth, noted, “If you know how to play, you do not need to know how to work.” (Thank you, Batkid.)

As noteworthy as the event’s public rewards were, however, there were also significant benefits realized on the personal level. Witnessing Miles’ transformation from a bashful lad into a personified superhero is truly a sight to see. Upon donning his cape and mask, he became Batkid, a bona fide superhero who wasn’t afraid of being at the center of attention, someone who was truly empowered in his own skin. He set an example for us all, especially for children who are more often told to pipe down than to give voice to their true selves.

Miles was not the only one to benefit, though. For example, as Eric Johnston observed, he made a new friend as a result of this experience. What’s more, the outpouring of public support resulted in generous financial contributions earmarked for Miles’ outstanding medical bills and the city’s unanticipated costs in supplying extra services, both of which were covered completely by donations. And, needless to say, the notoriety of Make-a-Wish was raised substantially, too.

If it’s not obvious by now, “Batkid Begins” is one the best feel-good movies to hit the big screen in quite some time. It tells its story well, with no puffery or padding, and it does so without falling into the trap of cloying, over-the-top sentimentality. Its stylish comic book-style graphics lend a fun and colorful enhancement to the narrative. It’s the kind of “good news” movie that does justice to the genre; it’s just unfortunate that there aren’t more like it.

It’s also unfortunate that the film has become the target of some highly uncalled-for criticism, disparagements that, regrettably, elevate cynicism to an art form. Some have contended, for instance, that the film is little more than an overlong infomercial for the charity at the heart of the picture’s story. Others have assailed the intent behind the staging of this event, calling it exploitative. Some have even suggested that the recipient of this outpouring of goodwill wasn’t deserving of it, given that there are so many other children who don’t even have their basic health care needs met, let alone become the beneficiaries of such celebrated treatment.

Comments like this remind me that some people have far too much time on their hands. While I’ll concede that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, I find these assertions incredibly sad. Would Miles be better off if he had been denied this experience? Would children in circumstances like his fare better if there were no Make-a-Wish Foundation to give them a little hope and happiness under trying circumstances? Would we, as viewers, still be as likely to get behind initiatives like this if we were unaware of the example set in this film? But, perhaps most importantly, isn’t it wonderful that this event’s high-profile visibility may very well have helped to raise awareness about an organization that may now be able to make such dreams come true for a larger number of deserving kids? The cynics might want to take a second look at their positions in light of these considerations.

The film is currently playing in limited release in theaters specializing in independent and documentary cinema. It is also available for preordering for Internet streaming. In either instance, it’s a celebration of life well worth a view.

On the surface, “Batkid Begins” may be the story of a little boy living a big adventure. But it’s more than that – much more than that, one of the most inspiring and important films of the year thus far. The feelings it engenders are infectious, showing us what we’re capable of – and how good it can make us feel.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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