Why doesn't the general public seem to care much about the diabetes epidemic? And why don't most people seem to have a clue about the difference between type 1 and type 2? This lack of recognition is one of our biggest peeves, right?
Well, renown filmmaker Jenny MacKenzie, mother of a now-14-year-old with type 1 diabetes, is on a mission to change all that. She's hard at work on a full-length documentary film that aims to alter our country's understanding of diabetes. The film is called SUGAR BABIES — a narrative that weaves together four families' stories, highlighting the urgency of diabetes as a public health concern, while "juxtaposing two types of diabetes." It's already being described by inside critics as "intimate, searing, and inspirational."
Jenny hopes it will be a game-changer because — along the lines of Kick Like A Girl, her award-winning HBO documentary that took on the stereotypes that still plague the sexes and showed that girls can compete just as fiercely as boys — this new film about diabetes has huge educational aspirations. For Kick, Jenny and her team developed a full school curriculum, coaches' guide, plus 'go-to information and resources,' including nutritional information online.
They plan to do the same for SUGAR BABIES, including information on both types of diabetes, nutrition, public health resources, and interactive discussion questions. They hope to push these resources to medical schools, legislators, high schools, colleges, and physicians' offices, to name a few.
"It's exciting for me as an independent documentary filmmaker who cares about social change," Jenny says. "I was not aware until I became a mom of a type 1 how challenging the misperceptions are on the differences between type 1 and type 2... It's time to set the record straight. Nothing but good things happen when people really begin to understand the differences."
The film follows four main characters (2 with type 1, a father and 11-year-old daughter with type 2, and a mother of a type 1 child who has become an advocate in her neighborhood due to the high incidence of type 1 diagnosis in their town), at home, in school, on the sports field, and at their diabetes clinic appointments — all against the backdrop of the public health crisis. Here's a peek at the film's trailer:
Note that famous type 1 endocrinologist Irl Hirsch and his journalist brother Jim Hirsch, author of the seminal book Cheating Destiny, both appear in the film. Jim is actually a member of Jenny's project team, responsible for some of the writing and story editing.
Jenny expects the film to be finished next fall, in time for a big festival debut. "Our true dream would be a big festival run. We'll submit first to the top-tier festivals — Sundance, Tribeca, and Toronto — and then move to B-tier festivals if necessary. Ideally we'd have a broadcast premiere on A&E or on HBO, like we did with Kick Like a Girl," Jenny says. They're seeking funding for the film and educational materials now, and Jenny's quite optimistic.
We spoke with her a little more in depth last week to get some of the back story on this project:
JM) Other films are often a way to connect type 1s themselves — so they have a narrow audience. Those films are not going to entertain or interest an audience that's not connected to type 1 diabetes. Those films are necessary and useful for them, but ours is a film with a much broader reach.
We're hoping our film will be a catalyst for change — on many different levels. I certainly hope it appeals to PWDs themselves (both types).
For example, Irl Hirsch told us that nationally, at medical schools, they spend a total of about four hours in four years on both types of diabetes! So we see a film like this as an opportunity to educate and create social change. There are big things, I think, that will come from this film.
You definitely sound more like an advocate than a film-lover...
I actually have a masters and PhD in social work. (I went back to film school at age of 41.) I always want to make sure there are real outcomes we can identify from my projects. I think about what it means to create change at bigger levels.
Your daughter is not your only personal connection to diabetes, correct?
My daughter Lizzie was diagnosed in 2003. I have three daughters in college, and Lizzie is 14 now.
My brother was diagnosed a year before Lizzie, when he was 26 years old. He's now the healthiest he's ever been in his entire life. I think this is a typical story for some conscientious type 1's.
My aunt was a hospice nurse who was diagnosed with type 1 at age 5 in 1946. She passed away in early 2005. But she was a huge inspiration to Lizzie. We have all of this wonderful 8mm footage of their childhood — her taking care of herself and using those incredibly huge needles. Some of this footage will be in the film.
What about adults with type 1 diabetes? They seem to be the only effected group not featured in your film.
We are trying to show the perspective of what it's like to have diabetes through your lifetime. One family has several generations with type 2 diabetes, for example. And Jim Hirsch did a piece of personal narration about adult type 1s and kids who grow up with it.
And you're seeking funding for the project now?
Yes. We have a very reasonable budget of $300,000 (films like this usually cost $500,000-$600,000). One reason it's so reasonable is that almost our entire team is personally connected to diabetes, so they're doing a lot of things pro bono.
To finance a film like this you can go two routes: you can get investors, become an LLC and invite people to buy shares, or you can find fiscal sponsorship through a 501C3 non-profit organization that serves as fiscal sponsors and an 'umbrella' to bring in funding. We're doing both.
We're working with a production company called Indigenous Lenses that specifically focuses on education and outreach on public health issues. It's a non-profit, and they take 5% of every dollar we raise for production costs.
We've now raised now about $60,000 in donations, and sold $25,000 in shares. We need to raise the remaining funds to finish the film.
How can us "little guys" — patients with limited resources — help out if we're interested in supporting the film?
We're creating a database of interested folks. We're encouraging people to host fundraisers in their home, like some people are doing in Boston. You can raise from $2,000 to $15,000 at each one of these parties. And every dollar counts!
A very cool project, with potential to really make a difference, we think. Best of luck to Jenny and team!