Wed Dec. 5, 2018 – 6:30 pm | Hendricks Center for the Arts
Tickets at the Door
Directed by Ryan Sarnowski
Historical Documentary, Rated
USA | 93 min | 2017
At 90-years-old, Merle Hayden crusades tirelessly to spread the gospel of his Commander, Alfred Lawson, and the utopian movement Lawsonomy. Alfred Lawson invented the United States’ first passenger airliner, but his company went bankrupt during the Great Depression. Dismayed by the economic policies at work, Lawson created the Direct Credits Society, a movement against what Lawson called “the one percent” that advocated for economic reform and “justice for everybody that harms nobody.” Once the Depression ended, many Direct Credits Society members left Lawson and returned to gainful employment, but not Merle. Merle stuck with Lawson through the creation of the University of Lawsonomy, the University’s closure at the hands of the IRS, and its relocation to Sturtevant, Wisconsin. Nearly 60 years after Lawson’s death, Merle continues disseminating Lawson’s writings in the hope of finding followers to carry on the work.
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 and kept his photo in her underwear drawer through two marriages, but she did not hear from him for over 60 years. Then an email arrived. Merle wanted to reconnect, and although they picked up where they left off romantically, Merle’s commitment to Lawsonomy continues overshadowing the life she would like them to share.
Originally a story of a leader and his most devoted follower, the follower has turned leader, and together their stories unfold to examine the history of a fringe utopian movement, the memory of which Merle fears will cease to exist when he does.
Ryan Sarnowski directed Passing the Baton: The Joe Sims Milwaukee Striders Story and over 100 documentary shorts, including the Cream City Soundcheck music documentary series, while Co-Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s documentary center doc|UWM. His additional short film work includes social issue documentaries like “Healing Hearts” and “The Peacemaker’s Workshop.” Ryan freelances through his company Threshing Media, and he is an editor for the Emmy award winning series Wisconsin Foodie. Ryan holds an MFA from UW-Milwaukee and a BFA from Florida State University.