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Shedding Light on a Dark Topic

March 12, 2001|SHARI ROAN

SUICIDE

a documentary by Eames Yates

HBO

March 18, 10 p.m., 58 minutes

*

Two years ago, Teddy Yates, 40, shot himself to death at his Montana home. The act sent his older brother, director-producer Eames Yates, on a heart-rending exploration of suicide. The result is this stark documentary that reveals the complexities and horror of self-destruction.

"Suicide" addresses fundamental questions: What kind of despair leads to this violent solution? What can be done to intervene? Understanding why people kill themselves is mind-bending for those who haven't experienced the kind of emotional pain that is simply too hard to live with. "Suicide" sheds some light on this in much the same way that writer William Styron's essays on mental illness have enabled us to better understand suicidal depression. One expert Yates interviews, for instance, describes the decision to commit suicide as a process of self-absorbed tunnel vision; a pain-filled constriction of one's life that leads to the ultimate narrowing of choices: live or die.

The documentary begins with Yates and his surviving brother, Angus, discussing Teddy's death and the anger and grief they feel. The sorrowful Yates then takes his camera to suicide intervention centers, hospitals, counseling sessions, private homes, even Los Angeles Unified's Suicide Prevention Unit, to interview mental-health professionals, suicidal people and victims' families. In an interesting twist, Yates is often on camera asking questions or stepping into the picture to embrace people overcome by grief. His own pain at his brother's death is tangible and brings the documentary a raw sincerity.

Preventing suicide emerges as a major theme. In one segment on a 12-year-old boy who hanged himself, an expert explains that young children, whose problems may seem trivial to adults, don't understand that suicide is a final act or that death is real. In another segment, a suicide hotline volunteer reveals what she has learned on the job. People don't treat each other very well, she says bluntly. "It's disillusioning."

Yates vows to present an "unflinching and deliberate" look at suicide, and he accomplishes that. Some of the images, however, may be too much for some viewers to bear. In particular, still images of the various ways people kill themselves are presented early in the documentary, and they are horrific. Likewise, a scene about brain research toward the end of the tape is unnecessarily gruesome. "Suicide" is for mature viewers.

*

TELETUBBIES GET UP AND GO!

The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co.

PBS

March 20 (11:30 a.m. on KCET; check local listings for other PBS stations); 26 minutes.

*

About one-quarter of American children are overweight. Health experts say this phenomenon is due more to the increasingly sedentary lives of modern American children rather than changes in diet. And though it may seem a bit ironic, since TV viewing has a lot to do with why kids are sedentary, the producers of "Teletubbies" should be applauded for addressing the problem with this multifaceted project on exercise.

The Teletubbies First Annual Exercise Day, March 20, begins with a special exercise program during the regular half-hour TV show. The episode is similar to a videotape that is being made available free to 25,000 preschools nationwide. In true Teletubbies style, the characters giggle, goof off and thoroughly enjoy their simple instructions to jump, stand on one leg, march, skip and crawl. Preschoolers will love it.

A longer exercise program, from PBS Home Video/Warner Home Video, is available for $12.95. In addition, Scholastic and Kid Rhino have published exercise books to serve as companion pieces.

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