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Sole Survivor (2013)

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In the history of aviation, there have been only 14 of them: sole survivors of a commercial aviation disaster. Most have never spoken publicly about the loss, the guilt, the immense ... See full summary »

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Bahia Bakari ...
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Cecelia Cichan ...
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George Lamson Jr. ...
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James Polehinke ...
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Shawn Pruchnicki ...
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In the history of aviation, there have been only 14 of them: sole survivors of a commercial aviation disaster. Most have never spoken publicly about the loss, the guilt, the immense pressure of feeling "spared." Who, after all, could ever truly understand? The answer is only each other. Sole Survivor brings four of them together (George Lamson, Cecilia Cichan, Bahia Bakari and Jim Polehinke) to share their very complex, personal stories for the first time. They revisit the most harrowing moments of their lives in an effort to heal and overcome their most perplexing questions. Written by Sole Survivor Film

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13 November 2013 (USA)  »

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$445,000 (estimated)
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Four journeys of catharsis, healing, and hope
20 November 2013 | by (Chicago, IL) – See all my reviews

Survivor 1: "Sometimes the darkness can really pull you down." Survivor 2: "I know, I've been there." Two sole survivors share this brief exchange at separate stages in their healing processes. The reply is a simple phrase but it has rarely carried more truth and weight.

Ky Dickens has crafted a masterful documentary about four of the fourteen sole survivors of large commercial aircraft crashes. How do you overcome the guilt of being the only survivor? How do you move forward and allow yourself to live? The film offers no easy answers because it is different for each survivor. The strength of the film is that it doesn't serve as a voyeuristic experiment with a microscope used to gawk at these living anomalies. They are shown as extraordinary, not because they are some miraculous beings, but because they are average human beings struggling with baggage few of us will ever know.

As one of the survivors said, everyone struggles with difficult life experiences but it is about learning how to move forward. Sometimes that cannot be as easily accomplished without the ability to share the resulting feelings with others who know what it feels like too. For the four survivors in the film, the opportunity to communicate with each other offered a key that could only have been forged from like experiences.

A central piece of the puzzle was George, who struggled with survivor's guilt and the feeling of living an inadequate existence that could not hold up to the expectations of those who saw him only as a sole survivor. The film stands as proof that his years on this Earth post-crash have not been in vain. He and his daughter fulfilled a role in one younger survivor's life that nothing else could.

You will be broken down emotionally into a million pieces by the history of the four crashes told before the title of the film even appears on the screen. But I have never seen a documentary that puts the viewer back together, without manipulating emotions, to give a different perspective about the possibilities for healing and hope.

I was lucky enough to catch this at one of two screenings in the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. It will be making the rounds on the festival circuit this fall and winter so make sure to catch it. Ky Dickens said it should be airing in February 2014 on CNN as well.


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