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Short film 'Mother, Mother' raises money for AIDS


LOS ANGELES -- Polly Bergen and Piper Laurie co-star. Henry Mancini wrote the score. Kenny Rankin sings the theme song by Cris Williamson.

Not bad for a half-hour film with a $50,000 budget. But then, "Mother, Mother," which begins its first commercial theatrical run in L.A. tonight has been more about making money than spending it.

A tale of reconciliation between an embittered woman and her gay, AIDS-stricken son, "Mother, Mother" has helped raise more than $350,000 for AIDS-related charities since writer-director Micki Dickoff began showing it at film festivals and benefits two years ago.

Dickoff, a professor of film and television at Emerson College in Boston, conceived of "Mother, Mother" after making "Too Little, Too Late," an Emmy-winning PBS documentary about three families who had supported children with AIDS.

"There was also a segment in it about children who were rejected by their parents. I heard of one man who died calling for his mother, and she wasn't there," Dickoff said.

Feeling she could reach more people with a fictional film, she wrote the story for "Mother, Mother." But without funding -- she was still in debt for "Too Little, Too Late" -- the project seemed doomed until an executive with the John Hancock insurance company saw the documentary and heard Dickoff speak.

The next day she was invited to the company's corporate offices; eventually, she received a $50,000 grant for the film. The only conditions were that the proceeds go to AIDS and that if the company did not like the film, its name would not appear on it. (John Hancock is very visibly credited at the beginning and end of the film.)

At the suggestion of a friend, Dickoff decided to work out of Los Angeles. "I thought I was going to make a 16mm film with unknown actors," she said. Instead, an astonishing number of people began volunteering goods and services, from the stars to suppliers of 35mm film and equipment and even the Teamsters who drove the trucks.

"Everybody donated everything," she said. In the end, the Hancock grant was used primarily to pay for insurance and film processing, and even that was heavily discounted. "We made a $1.5 million film for $50,000," Dickoff said.

She hopes "Mother, Mother" will eventually be shown on television as well as theaters.

"Too Little, Too Late" has already spawned a separate TV movie, which Dickoff produced. "Our Sons," starring Julie Andrews and Ann-Margret, was broadcast on ABC last May.

Having devoted five years to AIDS-themed projects, Dickoff is now in Miami working on something very different: a docudrama about a couple convicted of a murder they denied having committed. The husband has since been executed, the wife's death sentence was commuted to life in prison.

"It's a personal story for me because the woman was a childhood friend," Dickoff said.

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