When “More to Live For” airs at the Flyway Film Festival on Sunday, October 23, it will offer more than just a screening of a new film.
The documentary, by filmmaker Noah Hutton, will be followed by an opportunity for those inspired by the film to take action. They can head to an adjacent hospitality tent to have an inner cheek swabbed by local representatives from the National Marrow Donor Program and enter into the Be the Match Registry.
In the film, director Hutton (the son of actress Debra Winger and Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton) has crafted a tale of three men whose lives couldn’t be more disparate, except they all are gifted and ambitious.
James Chippendale is a Texan who owns a company that insures musical performances. Seun Adebiyi is a native of Nigeria who grew up in Alabama, graduated from Yale Law School and wants to compete in the Winter Olympics in skeleton (a type of sled racing). Michael Brecker is probably the best-known of the men. He’s one of the most influential tenor saxophonists ever, and winner of 15 Grammy Awards.
What all three men shared was a diagnosis of leukemia — which they could only survive if they found a bone marrow match from a donor. The men had no matches in their immediate families, and the film traces their race against time, capturing the immense tension they and their families endure as they organize donor drives and pray for a match.
Flyway Film Festival organizers say that programs like the one with Be the Match are about creating synergy between films and relevant community groups and causes.
“It’s not every day that we can have someone walk out of a theater and take immediate action, and that’s why this film and this effort are so special,” says Rick Vaicius, Executive Director of the festival. “Film can be a very transformative medium, and this time, we’re actually making a significant effort to save lives.”
Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the United States face a scenario similar to the three men in the film: They have a life-threatening form of leukemia or lymphoma, and their best hope for a cure is a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated adult donor. About 70 percent of people who need donors do not find matches in their families.
So patients like those in the film turn to the National Marrow Donor Program and its Be the Match Registry. There are 9 million Americans registered, but it’s still not easy to find a match. Patients and their friends, families and supporters also create drives to encourage people to register to increase the odds of finding a match.
The process used to require getting your blood drawn, but now a simple cheek swab is enough to allow for DNA testing to determine if someone is a close tissue match to someone who needs a donor — now or a few years in the future. Matches are most likely to be found among people of the same racial or ethnic heritage — which is why Adebiyi had to create a drive for donors in Nigeria.
The film is one of around 30 (out of the 52 or so showing at the festival), that will be the subject of a forum, in which members of the audience can participate in a moderated Q&A session. Following the screening of “More To Live For”, local representatives from the National Marrow Donor Program will be on hand for such a session.
“It’s like art meeting science,” says Kristine Reed, a spokeswoman for the Be the Match region that encompasses northwestern Wisconsin and Minnesota. “For people to volunteer in a situation like this is wonderful. It’s not because of a guilt thing or a crisis, but because they have resolved they want to help. It’s a luxury to do this, in a way with such visibility, and so proactively.”
Reed says the response to similar events in Sedona, Ariz., was incredible, “with 100 percent of those in the audience who were eligible volunteering.” But because Arizona has a lot of retirees, many people were beyond the age 60 cut-off for volunteering. With Flyway’s “something for everyone” approach to programming, audiences are expected to reflect a wide range in ages and a heightened awareness of current social and economic issues.
“It’s a simple and good thing people can do,” Reed says. “And a lot of them want to do it once they know how.”