"Your child has cancer." Hearing these four words will profoundly change a family's life, plunging them into a world of uncertainty, emotional upheaval and excruciating decisions. Every year in the United States, approximately 12,500 children and adolescents are diagnosed with this disease. Each will have a unique experience in confronting the disease and the treatment, but all will embark on a journey that is bewildering, terrifying, nearly unbearable, and certainly quite unlike anything most people associate with the normal experience of childhood. The families of the children will join them on their harrowing odyssey, and regardless of outcome, no one involved will ever be the same again.
From the trauma of diagnosis to the physical toll of treatment, from the stresses that can tear a family apart to the courage of children who face the possibility of death with honesty and humor, rebellion and dignity, A LION IN THE HOUSE is an unprecedented portrait of this life-altering experience captured in all its complex dimensions. As the film compresses six years into one narrative, it puts viewers in the shoes of parents, physicians, nurses, siblings, grandparents and social workers as they struggle to defeat an indiscriminate and predatory disease. A LION IN THE HOUSE is an intimate, intense and ultimately inspiring documentary about ordinary people getting through the impossible.
A co-production of the Independent Television Service (ITVS), the documentary will have its broadcast premiere on the ITVS and PBS series, Independent Lens, June 21 to 22 from 9 to 11pm (check local listings).
A Twist of Fate
The story of the film's genesis, as well as its unfolding aftermath, is a mirror of the pervasive reality of cancer. Several years ago, Dr. Robert Arceci, a prominent oncologist, contacted filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert to suggest that they make a film about childhood cancer. Dr. Arceci had been inspired by the film Hoop Dreams, and sought to find filmmakers who could make a similarly styled long-form-narrative documentary that follows families facing childhood cancer. At that time, Dr. Arceci had no idea that Bognar and Reichert had just seen their own teenage daughter through a year of chemotherapy and radiation. Anxious about going back into this world, yet drawn to a subject that had so deeply touched them, the filmmakers accepted Dr. Arceci's offer to take up residence on wing 5A of Cincinnati Children's Hospital, where he was chief oncologist. They would spend much of the next six years documenting five children and their families to create A LION IN THE HOUSE.
But their journey through the world of cancer was not yet over. A LION IN THE HOUSE was honored to be the longest film ever chosen for the prestigious Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. As they arrived in Park City, Utah to premiere their film on January 20, 2006 , Julia Reichert received devastating news about her recent medical tests and a diagnosis of lymphoma. Currently undergoing aggressive treatment for a rare form of the disease, Reichert along with her partner Steven Bognar are forging an even deeper bond with the subjects of their film. At Sundance, the film received thunderous standing ovations. Though Reichert & Bognar had left Sundance after only three days, the families in the film took leadership of the film and the Q & A discussions following screenings.
Five Courageous Families and Their Medical Teams
A LION IN THE HOUSE is truly an epic film in stature and length. It focuses on the stories of five children: Alex, a 7-year-old bundle of energy, dark eyes and curls; Tim, a mercurial, quick witted 16-year-old with a thousand watt smile; Justin, amiable and stalwart at 19 despite ten years of fighting the disease; Jen, a serious, quiet 6-year-old; and Al, a quicksilver, wry 11-year-old. Bognar and Reichert were given complete access to the children, their families and the medical teams treating them, resulting in stories with extraordinary detail. By taking their cameras inside hospital rooms, family homes, and staff meetings of the doctors and nurses, the filmmakers give audiences a chance to witness families and medical professionals as they wrestle with difficult questions and negotiate a plan of action in a field where there are few guideposts and fewer guarantees. Due to the recent changes in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy and security laws, videotaping in any hospital is much more restricted. Bognar and Reichert could not have created such an unflinching portrait of the ups and downs of battling childhood cancer without the brave foresight and cooperation of Cincinnati Children's hospital, its dedicated staff, and the children's families.
"Cancer goes hand in hand with huge uncertainty," said Bognar. "As we were filming, we saw how hard so many of the choices are, not only for the families but for the doctors as well. This movie, like real life, all happens in the present tense, so the doctors did not know what the outcome would be of the treatments that they discussed on camera. Now that we are fighting Julia's cancer, the experience we gained is helping us, every day, to chart our own course." Julia Reichert recalls, "We were present for intimate, scary, inspiring and altogether heart-rending events. Points of view often diverged and nerves frayed as very hard decisions were faced every day. But everyone we observed cared deeply, no one was a bad guy, everyone was trying their best. Witnessing their courage, their commitment, their persistence and their tremendous heart was an incredible inspiration to me as we filmed, and it has been an incredible source of strength and wisdom for me since my own diagnosis."
A National Outreach Campaign A LION IN THE HOUSE will be accompanied by an extensive national community outreach campaign. The campaign will be carried out in partnership with preeminent organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the American Cancer Society, among 20 others. The goal of outreach is to transform viewer responses into actions that will improve care and strengthen support systems for everyone fighting childhood cancer, especially those who face socio-economic challenges. An outreach website for A LION IN THE HOUSE, www.itvs.org/outreach/lioninthehouse, includes discussion materials, fact sheets, video clips from the film, outreach resources and more. A specific outreach project, targeting young adult survivors of childhood cancer, has also been launched in conjunction with A LION IN THE HOUSE. The "Survivor Alert" project, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, will engage and inform young adults of their risks and responsibilities as cancer survivors. This project's website is www.survivoralert.org Independent Lens Companion Website Along with the broadcast of A LION IN THE HOUSE, Independent Lens will launch an interactive companion website (www.pbs.org/independentlens/lioninthehouse) with detailed information on the documentary, including an interview with the filmmakers and resources on childhood cancer. The site will also feature a "Talkback" section where viewers can share ideas and opinions, watch preview clips and more.
Production and Funding Credits
A LION IN THE HOUSE is a co-production of Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert and the Independent Television Service (ITVS) with funding provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Lance Armstrong Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Program for Media Artists, The Ohio Arts Council and The MacDowell Colony. A LION IN THE HOUSE is produced and directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. Executive producer for ITVS is Sally Jo Fifer.
About ITVS and Independent Lens
The Independent Television Service (ITVS) celebrates its 15th Anniversary in 2006. ITVS is a leading funder and presenter of award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the Emmy Award–winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10pm on PBS. Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. ITVS is a "miracle" of public policy envisioned by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. In support of their idea, Congress mandated the creation of independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and represent underserved audience and provided funding to build ITVS. Since ITVS opened its doors in 1991, its programs have revitalized Americans' relationship to public television, bringing television audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow citizens. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, PBS is a private nonprofit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 349 public television stations. Serving nearly 90 million people each week, PBS enriches the lives of all Americans through quality programs and education services on noncommercial television, the Internet and other media. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, the leading dot-org website on the Internet. PRESS
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