All in the Family

All in the Family

An award-winning documentary captures the humor in two Chevy Chase brothers’ relationship

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Peter Mullin (left) and his brother Matthew are the focus of a documentary film called Don’t Be a Dick About It. Photo by Liz Lynch

Like many brothers, Peter and Matthew Mullin bicker and goof off when they’re together.

Unlike most brothers, though, their close but often contentious relationship has been captured in an award-winning documentary film featuring them and their Chevy Chase family. Filmed by two of their cousins during the summer of 2015, the 69-minute Don’t Be a Dick About It focuses on two siblings known as the “reds” because of the color of their hair—Peter, then a 22-year-old with autism who is a boisterous devotee of the long-running TV reality show
Survivor, and Matthew, a 15-year-old sports fan with a crippling fear of dogs.

Brothers Ben and Jack Mullinkosson of Chicago spent hours filming the Mullin brothers at the suggestion of their sister, Kerry, now 23, who also took part along with older brother Brendan, now 29, and parents Mary Jo, 56, and Tim, 55.

The Mullin brothers’ strong personalities and the extended time they spend together have created a special bond, says Kerry, a counselor for homeless youths in Salt Lake City.

“There would be a ton of conflict and not much resolution,” she recalls telling Ben. “Matthew is just so hilarious. And Peter’s brilliant. You watch Jeopardy! with him and he can run categories none of us can do.”

Brendan agrees that their brothers’ relationship can be riveting. “They bicker like nobody I’ve ever met,” he says.

Ben Mullinkosson, now 28 and filming for Vice TV in China, and his brother moved into the Mullins’ basement for six weeks. The film captures the Mullin brothers’ daily life, including Peter’s nightly ritual of acting out his own version of Survivor, which he calls “Peter’s World Adventure,” in the family’s living room. Every night for 18 years, Peter has created characters and explained during tribal councils why he’s eliminating some, following the TV show’s format.

Peter, who is often the only one in attendance, conducts the ritual even if the family is traveling or if it’s late when he returns from his part-time job as a member of the “Power Pack,” a fan booster organization for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the Arena Football League’s Washington Valor. A huge bamboo torch stands in the Mullins’ living room, and a framed Survivor logo hangs over the fireplace mantel. The torch, along with Survivor hats, T-shirts and a personal letter, was shipped to Peter by host Jeff Probst after he saw the documentary last fall.

Another scene from the documentary shows Peter’s irritation when Matthew is riding ahead of him on a bicycle as he walks along a street. “Can you get out of my way when I walk?” Peter complains. “I’m not in your way,” Matthew retorts.

Tim Mullin says that with few exceptions, such as a scene showing Brendan smoking marijuana, his nephews’ filming was not intrusive. “They captured what is very funny and very real around this house,” he says.

Brendan says he was “ashamed” that the camera captured him using a bong. “My father handled it very well. And my mom hates that scene,” he says. “But we weren’t acting. I thought it was a good moment where Peter was curious and engaged in questions and not just in his fictional world.”

Recording these true-life moments helped the film win the Audience Award in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Mary Jo, Tim, Peter and Matthew attended and spoke at the festival. The documentary premiered in the U.S. at this year’s Maryland Film Festival and has been shown at events in Scotland, the Czech Republic and England.

“I was proud to be part of the documentary,” says Peter, now 26. “They can see me making mistakes in life, like fighting with my brother over stupid things like food.”

Four years later, the brothers have matured, but taunting continues. One recent morning, Matthew, now 19 and attending the University of Oklahoma, was grateful that Peter hadn’t followed his usual routine of holding a cellphone blaring reveille over his sleeping head.

Matthew is no longer the skinny teen with braces that’s seen in the film. A graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, where he played football, he’s now over 6 feet tall. The film captures the summer he overcame his lifelong fear of dogs.

He and his mother often visited the dog park at Cabin John Regional Park, where he learned to deal with his terror. By the end of the summer, viewers see Matthew petting dogs.

“I just worked out my fear,” he says. “It’s very different seeing the film now and seeing how much I’ve grown.”

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