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No One Dies in Lily Dale (2011)

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A candid portrayal of Lily Dale, a spiritualist community in upstate New York, where most of the town's residents are registered Mediums who regularly give spiritual readings to visitors through alleged communication with the deceased.

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NO ONE DIES IN LILY DALE is a documentary film that captures the journeys of a diverse set of visitors making a pilgrimage to an off-the-beaten-path town, with hopes to connect, heal, find answers, and get closure with deceased loved ones. Experience first-hand the different stories of personal loss as they collide and unfold in rural upstate New York. Lily Dale boasts the largest spiritualist community in the world, filled with 40 registered Mediums who communicate with those whom have passed over into the "other side". Mediums channel spirits via readings and séances performed in their quaint, 19th century-style Victorian homes and by public platform services conducted in vortex of unearthed virgin forest. We cross the path of Ron Holt, a Chicago Police Officer, whose son Blair was tragically gunned down in a random act of gang violence. Ron is trying to make peace with his son's death and the spirits that haunt him. Susan Hinrichs, a born-again Evangelic Christian, questions her ... Written by Anonymous

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16 February 2011 (Spain)  »

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Lily Dale  »

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Half a film
15 July 2010 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

This film purports to be a documentary about Lily Dale, a community with a large concentration of "mediums" who claim to permit the dead to communicate with the living, through themselves. Commonly they use a telephone metaphor where they are the phone line, the audience on one end, and the dead on the other. This goes uninvestigated by the filmmakers. A sonar seems a better comparison. The medium pings out ideas, receives back some confirmations and denials from the audience, and keeps pinging until a narrative forms.

One thing I did learn is that there is a religion where the "medium" concept is a key part of the religion. In this film, that is Spiritualism.

Unfortunately, the film makes no attempt to investigate any claims whatsoever. So, at best, it is half a film, promoting Lily Dale as a sort of "your mileage may vary" resource. It shows what happens, but provides no context or explanation that you'd normally expect. It's sort of like a documentary on a casino that never shows you anything but the gaming area, and avoids explaining how the rules work such that the house always wins in the long term. The film simply shows a handful of folks as they visit a variety of mediums in the hope of contacting a dead loved-one. In this sense, it is a very basic documentary, but it could and should have been more.

The reality is that the dead are dead. Being dead, they do not have consciousness. They don't speak through anything or anyone. The film doesn't address this basic fact of life and death.

There are other things worth addressing that are simply ignored. Stripping away the religious layer, what percentage of mediums are mentally ill, versus being con artists? What percentage of their vulnerable targets are mentally ill, versus being gullible?

Several times, there are mentions of being "registered" (or something to that effect) as a medium or psychic, but nowhere are the requirements for this particular label made clear. In fact, one medium suggests to a man that he could become a medium himself, despite the fact that he appears (to this layman) to be quite mentally ill.

Interestingly, the mediums themselves pretty much tell you the truth, if you're willing to connect the dots, but the filmmakers let it all slide without further investigation. Mediums of today largely restrict themselves to telling tales, because the physical magic tricks of the past are too easily detected. One admits that the only way to tell whether a medium works or not is to check the results, and that even a fake medium (is there any other kind?) can produce good results.

The overall process, which is depicted in the film, consists of the vulnerable or gullible seeking out mediums until they find one that tells them what they want to hear, and the mediums spouting out possibilities until their audience (of one or many) responds in a suitable way to what they have said.

I do believe there are some psychological phenomena that can occur, in a way similar to how such things might occur with a psychiatrist. But that's not the claim these folks make, and if they did it would likely be illegal due to licensing. It would have been interesting to get a professional opinion on the effects that certain phrases, intonations, and hand movements might have on a person primed to believe.

That said, I enjoyed the nutty Christian anti-Harry Potter protesters. These guys get around. But my sympathies do go to the Lily Dale residents. Nobody deserves that.

But overall, this film didn't really tell me much. Most viewers will have already seen mediums before, and we know too well the reasons why vulnerable people seek their help. Most viewers probably won't know the specific ways in which it can be faked, and the psychological processes that are involved with seeking mediums, and believing in their work. We need a film that tackles these issues and more.


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