(CBS News) Documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple is a two-time Academy Award-winner, for "Harlan County U.S.A." (1976) and "American Dream" (1990). Her other films include "Fallen Champ" (about boxer Mike Tyson), "Bearing Witness" (about woman journalists in war zones), "Wild Man Blues" (about clarinet player Woody Allen), "Shut Up & Sing" (about the Dixie Chicks), and "Gun Fight" (about firearms in the wake of the Virginia Tech mass shooting).
Her latest film, "Running From Crazy," explores the mystique of the family of Mariel Hemingway, grand-daughter of writer Ernest Hemingway, and of the actress' struggle with the personal demons that have left seven members of her family dead by suicide.
The film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, will play at theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago in early November, before being broadcast on Oprah Winfrey's OWN cable channel in 2014.
In this web-exclusive interview, correspondent Mo Rocca asks Kopple about culling material together for "Running With Crazy" (including never-before-seen footage shot by Mariel's sister, Margaux, a couple of years before she committed suicide); about the "Hemingway gene"; and about her personal connection to the message of the film.
MO ROCCA: The loneliness in this family is so wrenching. Did you feel kind of overwhelmed at times?
BARBARA KOPPLE: Well, mostly the loneliness that I felt came from Mariel, because Muffet [Mariel's eldest sister] was already in a home and Mariel was trying to dig as possibly deep as she could so she could make a life for her children. Not knowing who Ernest Hemingway was, except that he's a good writer and he hunted and fished and he did all of these things . . . nobody ever knew much about him. It was never talked about. From generation to generation, Jack never talked about it to Martha.
ROCCA: Why do you think that is?
KOPPLE: I think because of his demon. And it was a stigma with his suicide. I mean, I think in that period of time, the late '50s, early '60s, people never talked about it. And I think it's still the same today. People are starting to talk about it a little more. But it's just like what AIDS used to be.
Or rape or, you know, some kind of addiction to alcohol. It was a stigma before, but we got through that stigma. So mental illness and suicide is still a stigma. I mean, you see so much about Ernest Hemingway and his life. But you don't realize that he doesn't have that balance; he doesn't have that kind of family situation where people spend time with him and know him and revere him.
ROCCA: Did it also have something to do with the fact that this man was a literary giant and maybe people felt awed by the legacy?
KOPPLE: I think that maybe that people felt awed by the legacy. It was true that this was his son, this was still his son. And it's still his son who felt very alone, and felt as if he didn't have a father. So he never passed down the feelings that he had about his father to his daughter. And consequently, Mariel never passed down her family history to her daughter. So it was a multi-generational thing of silence.
ROCCA: Why did you want to make this movie?
KOPPLE: Well, with many movies, I mean, I just never wake up one day and say, "A-ha, I'm gonna do Mariel Hemingway, or Mike Tyson or Woody Allen," whatever. I was approached to do it from OWN, from a woman named Lisa, who was a really good friend of Mariel's. And she said, "How would you like to do a film on Mariel Hemingway, the Hemingway family?"
And I said, "Are you kidding? I would love it." And at the same time she said, "Mariel, how would you like to do a film about your family?" And Mariel said, "No, no way. My family's totally crazy. Nobody would want to watch it."
I guess Mariel knew who I was and we got together, we had breakfast together and it was wonderful. It was like two old girlfriends talking a mile a minute about life and about things that we cared about.
You hear about Margaux and Mariel and Muffet and Ernest in newspaper clippings, or you just get tiny fragments. Here was an opportunity to really see who they were and see what their souls were about, and just dig deep. And the wonderful thing is that Mariel wanted to see that also. She said, "No holds barred, we'll just go for it."
ROCCA: Did you have to encourage her to be so open? Because she really puts it all out there. Or was she already going to do that?
KOPPLE: I didn't have to encourage her to do that. She wanted to do it. She wanted to do that not only to get it out, because she had been harboring it all these years, but also for her family, for her daughter. It was time they knew their history, and also for other people. So that if she told their story, perhaps they wouldn't be so shy about telling their story.
The thing with mental illness is that you can't keep it inside. You have to let it out.
ROCCA: I know you're not a doctor, but is there a label that we can assign in general to the family's mental illness?
KOPPLE: Depression, alcohol, pills, addiction, obsession, a lot of things. I mean, Mariel so escaped it. And she escaped it by doing things that were very good for her. She scaled mountains and plunges into cold water and works out constantly and eats well. And she could've taken the same route as Margaux, but she didn't. And she chose another one.
ROCCA: In the movie, she says that her father didn't pay the same kind of attention to her as he did to her two sisters. I was almost wondering, "Boy, I wonder if that distance was a blessing in disguise." If her sort of relative distance from the family kind of saved her.
KOPPLE: I think that as a child, you never think like that. You think that every family is like yours. So okay, "So they don't give us love, or they don't give us attention." But yet she had a great, deep love for her father. I mean, she went fly fishing with her father, he taught her how to ski. So there were those interactions. But there's also a lot of time that it was at arm's length.
ROCCA: What do you think sets this family apart from others, other than the fact that Ernest Hemingway was one of the great writers of the 20th century?
KOPPLE: I think they're all deeply creative. Mariel definitely has the Hemingway gene.
ROCCA: And what is that Hemingway gene?
KOPPLE: That Hemingway gene is not being afraid to try. Not be afraid to climb a wall that's straight up. Not being afraid to hide in dangerous places. Not being afraid to fish. Not being afraid to risk things that she's never done before. She just doesn't do it with alcohol and drugs; she does it with her body and her mind and really putting a great focus on it.
ROCCA: She says in the movie, not only that, she's somebody that's been afraid for most of her life. But she also says that her grandfather was somebody who did all that derring-do because he was deep down inside very afraid.
KOPPLE: Well, I think maybe they're all afraid, but the wonderful trait about the Hemingways is just they're willing to face their fears. And they're willing to do it. And they're not afraid to do it. And facing their fears gives them a lot more confidence to move on and to do other things.