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A24’s Psychic Readings Doc Leaves Sundance Viewers Crying, Laughing

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Lana Wilson‘s new documentary “Look Into My Eyes” casts a sympathetic view of an oft-mocked part of society: psychics and the clients who trust them. The feature debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday at the Egyptian Theater in Park City, and was followed by a Q&A with Wilson, producer Kyle Martin, editor Hannah Buck and four of the featured psychics.

During the film, which consists of consultations between psychics and their clients, as well as diving into the personal lives of the psychics themselves, emotions were up and down as the mediums acted as de facto therapists to many people who didn’t know where to turn. For example, one psychic is an expert on communicating with animals, which drew initial chuckles from the audience until the clients explained how their companions would help them manage an abusive relationship, or be a lifeline for loneliness. One reading near the end of the film — when one of the psychics randomly met with a former classmate and mentioned who she would be asking about before she said anything — had the audience gasping at the cosmic coincidence of the situation.

That said, several skeptics at the screening were miffed at the documentary’s complete neutrality, which never considers that the psychics might be embellishing their communication with the other side.

Wilson, who previously directed the 2020 Taylor Swift doc “Miss Americana” and last year’s “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” said she was inspired to profile real-life psychics after visiting one in Atlantic City on a whim the day after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.

“I just saw a sign that said ‘Five Dollar Psychic Reading’ and without even thinking I walked in, having never been to a psychic before,” she said. “I pulled back this curtain and there was a table and two chairs. I sat down and no one was there, but I immediately felt incredibly emotional, like I was looking into a mirror at my desperate state at that moment, and it felt incredibly clarifying, and I kept thinking, ‘No one’s even here.’”

“The woman came in and sat down and talked to me for about five minutes,” Wilson continued. “I don’t remember what she said, but it was very comforting and I felt better at the end, like a weight being lifted off of me. I was getting ready to go, and she said, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And I said, ‘I’m a documentary filmmaker,’ and she said, ‘Oh well, what do you make movies about?’ At that time, I was finishing a film called ‘The Departure,’ about a punk rocker-turned-zen priest who counsels people considering suicide. And the psychic said, ‘Sounds like my life. You would not believe the situations people come in here with. They come in at real crossroads in their lives when they have nowhere else to turn.’ And that was a lightbulb moment for me. I realized I thought of psychics in a very trivial, light way. And I thought it would be extraordinary to make this the setting for a film where we get to see this wash of humanity come through these doors and hear the questions they’re asking, and then see what they’re talking about.”

Wilson said that, along with Martin, they visited 150 psychics in New York City in order to find the ones that gave the most in-depth and specific readings. From there, they shot over 100 sessions and personal footage over seven years.

“I think [the subjects] were surprised that it was less about them as psychics and more about them as human beings,” Wilson said. “But that was part of what was so interesting to me, and I got to know these individuals. At first, I thought maybe this would be entirely sessions, the whole movie, but as I got to know these people, and as I understood their own experiences with loss and with trauma and how that impacted their work, I got excited about the idea of editing the film together in such a way that you’re carrying their personal experience into the session, so that it feels really charged.”

A24 has not yet set a theatrical release date for “Look Into My Eyes.”

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