about THE FILM
At 90-years-old, Merle Hayden has a lot to do. As the last crusading member of the utopian movement Lawsonomy, he works tirelessly to spread the gospel and preserve the legacy of his Commander, Alfred Lawson. Lawson invented the United States’ first passenger airliner, but his company went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Dismayed by the policies at work, Lawson created the Direct Credits Society, an economic-reform movement against what Lawson called “the one percent,” which advocated for “justice for everybody that harms nobody.” Thousands joined. Yet once the Depression ended, many members left Lawson and returned to gainful employment, but not Merle. Merle stuck with Lawson through the creation of the University of Lawsonomy and its closure at the hands of the IRS. Nearly 60 years after Lawson’s death, Merle continues distributing Lawson’s writings hoping to find new followers.
Merle’s high school sweetheart, Betty Kasch, feels differently. As a teenager, Betty rejected Lawsonomy, and so Merle rejected her—left her to join the organization fulltime. She checked for letters every day but did not hear from him for over 60 years. Although Betty and Merle picked up where they left off romantically, Merle's commitment to Lawsonomy continues overshadowing the life she would like them to share. She believes it is getting to be too much for him; in truth, it is too much for her.
Originally a story of a leader and his most devoted follower, Manlife blends Merle and Betty’s story with a vast collection of Lawsonian artifacts to tell their tale alongside Lawson’s. Together, they examine the history of a fringe utopian movement, the memory of which Merle believes will cease to exist when he does lest he find another student to carry on the crusade.
DIRECTOR - RYAN SARNOWSKI
Ryan Sarnowski directed the feature Passing the Baton and produced over 100 documentary shorts, including the “Cream City Soundcheck” music series, while Co-Director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s doc|UWM. He is currently Editor of the Emmy-award-winning series Wisconsin Foodie and owner of Threshing Media, a production company that tells stories of uncommon lives and overlooked subjects. Ryan holds an MFA from UWM and a BFA from Florida State University.
Producer - Susan Kerns
Susan Kerns is an Assistant Professor at Columbia College Chicago and Co-Director of the Chicago Feminist Film Festival. She wrote the screenplay for Little Red, which won Best Feature awards at the Berlin Independent, Canada International, Great Lakes, and Driftless film festivals, and she has produced or directed numerous award-winning shorts. She previously was Education Director at the Milwaukee Film Festival, and she holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Producer - Terry Caddell
Terry Caddell is a freelance filmmaker. He began working with Ryan Sarnowski and Susan Kerns through doc|UWM while obtaining his BFA at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He now resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Editor - Jessamy Meyer
Jessamy Meyer edited the award-winning feature documentary My Way Home, was Assistant Editor on the documentary Psychopath, and works as an Editor for About Face Media where she creates documentary content for national brands.
Composer - Greg Peterson
Greg Peterson has toured the world with many very different bands—Batillus, The Scene is Now, Saint Thomas, to name a few—whose music ranges from heavy metal to “postmodern jug band” music. In addition to his guitar playing (called “triumphant post-rock radiance” by Pitchfork) he currently enjoys studying Haydn on his Wurlitzer electric piano and strumming on his old banjo for children's parties. Though he has self-released over thirty albums, this is his first soundtrack.
"Personal favorites included Ryan Sarnowski’s Manlife, a fascinating documentary about an elderly man’s efforts to keep the cult-like LawsonIAN movement alive."
Peter Weed MovieMaker - October 26, 2017
"Manlife takes its title from one of Lawson’s books; But the film’s title is also a play on words about the measure of a man’s life."
Duane Dudek Milwaukee Magazine - August 4, 2017
"a documentary that, like an optical illusion, is perpetually turning itself inside out, and like the best illusion, demands both our attention to its details and our focus on all it leaves behind."
Kian Bergstrom Cine-File - June 2, 2017
"a deeply touching documentary, and one of the best I’ve seen this year"
Jason Coffman Daily Grindhouse - June 16, 2017
"MANLIFE IS a wonderfully universal tale...It shows one man who, at 90, just doesn’t quit."
Urban Matter - June 9, 2017
"We are not surprised that “Manlife”, which sold out, won the Audience Award."
Screen Magazine - June 8, 2017
If you haven't heard of Lawsonomy... that's because the government doesn't want you to know"
Chicago Reader - May 24, 2017
- 'Manlife' Documentary Explores Lawsonomy & Its Last Crusader : Audio Interview
- Audrey Nowakowski WUWM - July 21st, 2017
- Loading Doc: Manlife, Love, and Lady Parts - Liz Kaar Screen Magazine - May 24, 2017