By Travis Gulbrandson
It was a packed house last Friday night for the local premier of “Ride with Larry,” the documentary that tells the story of local resident Larry Smith, his battle with Parkinson’s disease and his 2011 bicycle ride across the state.
Along with Larry and his wife Betty, the film’s producer Katie Skow and Tom Black, director of the South Dakota Film Festival, participated in a Q&A session following the first screening at the Coyote Twin.
Black said “Ride with Larry” served an important function, being a film that takes place in the state but does not deal with the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore or some historical figure.
“I can’t think in modern history of a character-driven documentary about a group of people that took on such an expedition in modern times in South Dakota, so thank you for providing that … piece of work for us,” Black said.
“If you hadn’t done it, nobody would have.”
It was quite a job, too, with the crew shooting a mind-boggling amount of footage to whittle into the finished product.
“I think we probably didn’t understand the level of privacy that we would give up, because we did live with cameras for many, many, many months,” Betty said. “I would get up sort of sleepy-headed, and then walk out of the bedroom, and there would be a camera already running.”
Although the film is approximately 85-90 minutes long, about 2,000 hours of film was actually shot.
“That’s a lot of time to have camera people in your home,” Betty said. “But we did it for the cause.”
It’s a cause that Skow and the rest of the crew were in on from the beginning, as she is Larry and Betty’s niece.
In addition, one of the film’s co-directors and co-producers also have relatives with Parkinson’s disease, Skow said.
The film serves several functions. The first is to show the ride, the opening days of which were marred by what Larry called “horrendous conditions,” in an interview with the Plain Talk last week.
“It was horrible,” he said. “It was really cold and windy.”
Skow and Betty Smith recalled the low temperatures and heavy rains during Friday’s Q&A session.
“I don’t know why I wasn’t prepared for that, but the level of bad weather was extreme, even for Aberdeen (where the ride started),” Betty said.
“We kind of had mixed feelings about the weather,” Skow said. “We went, ‘Oh, no,’ and then we got to thinking, ‘This cold makes a really nice twist in the plot.’”
The weather eventually cleared up, and the remainder of the ride went off as planned, gathering more support and riders as it drew to a close.
One of the other aspects of the film is what Parkinson’s disease is like, as well as some of its options for treatment – some of them a bit of a surprise.
“This film, as it’s presented, in my heart is an absolute slam-dunk for the use of medical marijuana,” Black said.
In the film, Larry is shown taking a concentrated form of marijuana, which calms his tremors in a matter of minutes.
“We did not cut the camera at all” to show the full effect, Skow said.
Betty explained that the scene came about because another Parkinson’s patient told Larry to try marijuana to aid in dealing with his dyskinesia, and gave him the name of a doctor and a dispensary in California, where the Smiths own a home.
“The real problem is, first of all, the type, because when everybody grows (marijuana), you really don’t know what you’re getting,” Betty said. “The other problem is dosage. What this guy told him about was a medication that absorbs very quickly under the tongue.”
Larry took only one drop in the film.
“You can see the difference,” Betty said. “It just has a very dramatic impact on dyskinesia. Larry’s neurologist keeps offering us morphine. Morphine takes care of dyskinesia, but do you really want to live your life dependent on morphine? Larry has always said no.”
Betty added that there are varieties of marijuana that are very high in concentration that can control both epilepsy and dyskinesia.
“If you have the right strain and dose, it’s actually quite effective,” she said. “What I wish is that the FDA would permit drug companies to make it so you could get a prescription from a doctor and be able to take it the way that you take (other prescriptions).”
Skow and Betty Smith each said they have a favorite part of the film.
“I think in terms of the part of the film I love most is … the love story between Betty and Larry,” Skow said. “It’s just such an inspiration for me and so many other people who watch this. They tell me, ‘I didn’t know, but ‘Ride with Larry’ is actually a love story.’”
Betty said her favorite part of the film is what made her cry each day of the ride, which was when people with Parkinson’s came to try out a catrike recumbent bicycle like Larry’s.
“Day after day you saw this same expression on people’s faces,” Betty said. “The moment for me was an older woman who had Parkinson’s for a long time who was extremely disabled, so much so that she couldn’t hold her head up and she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She’s standing there all hunched over and her eyes keep falling, and her head keeps dropping forward. She couldn’t talk, and her husband kept insisting that she wanted to try this trike out.”
The woman could barely move her feet, so she was assisted in putting them on the pedals.
Then she was given a little push.
“All of a sudden she takes off, and her whole face just was effused with joy,” Betty said. “The amazing, chilling moment for me was when her husband said, ‘She has not smiled like that in two years.’”
Following the week-long engagement in Vermillion, “Ride with Larry” will be screened at the South Dakota Film Festival Sept. 28, the San Diego Film Festival Oct. 5 and the Orlando International Film Festival Oct. 19.
Black thanked the Smiths for allowing their story to be told, and the filmmakers for telling it.
“The film industry in South Dakota is extremely young, and certainly the independent film industry in South Dakota is very young, so to have a film company, a production crew come into South Dakota and pick a charming, enlightening and inspirational story, and tell it all within the confines of our state is unique.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/ridewithlarry.