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Movie Review: Free the Mind

June 7, 2013

Free the Mind PosterFree the Mind – A KinoSmith Release

Release Date: June 7th, 2013 @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Rated PG for mature themes, not recommended for young children

Running time: 79 minutes

Phie Ambo (dir.)

Phie Ambo (writer)

Jóhann Jóhannsson (music)

Richard Davidson as Himself

Stephen J. Lee as Himself

Richard Low as Himself

Emma Seppala as Herself

Laura Pinger as Herself

Free the Mind

©KinoSmith.  All Rights Reserved.

Richard Low, a veteran of the Iraq war, receives treatment for severe PTSD in Free the Mind.

Our reviews below:


Free the Mind Review By John C.

**1/2 (out of 4)

The idea behind Free the Mind is championed by the celebrated Dr. Richard Davidson, who has set up a program at the University of Wisconsin, that uses meditation techniques to “cure” the effects of PTSD, mainly in soldiers returning from the war.

Directed by Phie Ambo, the film follows a group of young veterans suffering from PTSD after serving in Iraq, along with a boy in preschool who is included in the program for his fear of elevators and diagnosis of ADHD.  But the fact that the child was put up for adoption after a few days because his birth mother was an alcoholic, might better explain his many ongoing challenges.  Because PTSD is a severe response to certain situations that is brought out by specific triggers, the meditation techniques can prove effective and do provide a coping strategy for the extreme anxiety.  Although it’s debatable as to how well they might work for other neurological differences, something that is never directly addressed in the film.

The music is overly urgent and the approach sometimes feels a little one sided, but this is an otherwise worthwhile documentary.  Regardless of whether or not you agree with all of the subjects, Free the Mind is an interesting discussion piece about how meditation can sometimes work over medication when dealing with the symptoms of PTSD.


Free the Mind Review by Erin V.

**1/2 (out of 4)

Free The Mind is a documentary that takes a look at the techniques of meditation to help both anxious kids as well as veterans with full-on PTSD.  It will certainly be interesting to those interested in psychology.

It does feel a bit like the kind of film you’d find on TVO or a similar channel, but for that kind of thing it is well done.  The one thing I took a bit of an issue with was that the over-noticeable score (music) over many scenes feels over urging and incessant at times, but I suppose this is some sort of stylistic choice.  Overall though, Free The Mind is worth checking out for those interested in the subject matter.


Free the Mind Review by Nicole

*** (out of 4)

Free the Mind explores the therapeutic benefits of meditation for people of all ages.  At University of Wisconsin, researchers are studying yoga and other Asian meditation techniques as ways to heal the brain.  The university runs a preschool for children with and without developmental delays, that uses mindfulness and compassion education to help children overcome their fears, and learn to care for each other.

One adorable little boy, Will, has a fear of elevators.  He is also hyperactive and impulsive, likely due to FASD.  Will’s teacher, Laura Pinger, helps him and the other children overcome many of their challenges.  Her calm, compassionate demeanour allows her to be a perfect role model for her diverse classroom.

Meanwhile, at University of Wisconsin, Iraq war veterans are participating in a study regarding yoga and breathing exercises as cognitive therapy options to treat PTSD.  Steve, one of the veterans, was an interrogator who felt pressured in doing things he wishes he had never done.  He deeply regrets his actions, which were unfortunately part of a job he was assigned to do.  His nightmares about his previous actions affect his family, consisting of his wife and their two small children.  Meditation helps Steve to forgive himself and enjoy his family again.

Another veteran, Richard, has not only saved peoples lives, but has also seen people die from explosions.  These terrible memories not only haunt his mind, they have also cost him his marriage.  Meditation allows Richard to once again enjoy the beautiful things around him.  While meditation doesn’t work for everyone with PTSD, one veteran in the film prefers extreme fitness and cycling, it works wonders for some.  The techniques work beautifully with the preschool children as well.

Free the Mind explains the brain well using both symbolic animation and whimsical chalk board style animated diagrams.  The film really captures the message that compassion is the path toward a healthy, war free world.  Anyone interested in mental health, developmental delays, or creating a world of peace and compassion should see Free the Mind.


Free the Mind Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

Director Phie Ambo’s documentary, Free the Mind provides an interesting look at the use of meditation techniques as a therapeutic alternative for the treatment of a range of anxiety disorders.  The film follows two diverse research projects at the University of Wisconsin’s neuroscience research centre, spearheaded by researcher and neuroscientist, Dr. Richard Davidson.

The first is a preschool where typically developing and neourologically different children are integrated.  The film focuses on a little boy named Will, whose challenges include impulse control, hyperactivity, mood regulation and anxiety, in particular a fear of elevators.  The second project works with a group of U.S. veterans of the Iraq war who are suffering with varying degrees of PTSD.  The film focuses mainly on two men, Steve who is married with two young children, and Rich whose marriage has dissolved due to his challenges.

Switching back and forth between the two projects, Free the Mind takes the viewer through the steps of teaching participants breathing techniques and relaxation strategies.  It’s interesting to see the contrast and similarities between the techniques used with the preschoolers and the adults.  In between, segments with the two groups are amusing chalk animation segments describing what’s happening in the brain.

As someone who has practised yoga and relaxation exercises for years, I was already sold on the benefits of the projects.  For those not as familiar with meditation techniques, Free the Mind does provide a good overview of the benefits, without promising any miracle cures.  This documentary is worth seeing for anyone interested in treatments that provide an alternative to mainly pharmacological interventions.  Psychology students in particular will want to check out Free the Mind.


Free the Mind Review by Tony

*** (out of 4)

Free the Mind is a documentary about the work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin using FMRI and other scientific tools to study the benefits of eastern meditation practices and applying them to a preschool class with special needs children and a support group of veterans with PTSD. The film closely follows three people as they go through the program.

Breathing and focusing techniques are used to improve moods and behaviour in the preschool class, particularly to help overcome a small boy’s fear of elevators. A former army captain separated from his wife and a former military interrogator with a young family are taken through a one week pilot program of meditation and counselling to reduce their need for medication.

As an alternative to expensive and often risky medication, these techniques are shown to be effective for many patients, but it must be remembered that no form of psychotherapy works for everybody, especially if it does not include consultation from a sensitive therapist.

Produced by a Danish team directed by Phie Ambo,  Free the Mind is well made as long as it concentrates on the people involved, and Dr. Davidson is an engaging advocate for his ideas. However, I found the abstract animated brain sequences and heavy musical score distracting.


Consensus: Directed by Phie Ambo, Free the Mind documents the work of Dr. Richard Davidson with both children and adults, offering an interesting look at how meditation and relaxation techniques can help treat anxiety and PTSD.  **3/4 (Out of 4)

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