Down to the marrow: Theaters screen leukemia documentary

Seun Adebiyi in Noah Hutton’s documentary More to Live For

You can hear disembodied facts and statistics about the upswing of cancer or warming global temperatures or the diagnosis of obesity in children, for example, all day long without letting them sink into your consciousness. Until you can connect any such condition with a face, the impulse to act on behalf of anyone might very well elude you. That’s what a good documentary can do: make that connection, impart information and move people to take action.

Noah Hutton’s documentary More to Live For introduces us to three men suffering from leukemia who need bone marrow transplants to survive: Grammy-winning, world-renowned saxophonist Michael Brecker, entertainment industry entrepreneur James Chippendale and Seun Adebiyi, a Nigerian-born Yale Law School graduate with sights on becoming the first Nigerian to compete in the Olympics. The film delves into their personal stories in a sensitive and revealing manner, highlighting each one’s accomplishments and hinting at the stark changes brought on by their blood cancer diagnoses.

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Appearing on more than 1,000 albums, Brecker was regarded as one of the most influential tenor saxophonists since John Coltrane. We see clips of his awesome career as composer, soloist and sideman, playing both jazz and rock, and collaborating with notable artists like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and many others, along with poignant footage of him with his young family. Chippendale is introduced as a high-living, hard-partying, successful businessman in the entertainment insurance game, in photographs always surrounded by women. Adebiyi, depicted as a brilliant and ambitious young man coming out of an impoverished childhood, dreams of distinguishing himself further – he has already proven to be an outstanding student in high school, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Yale – by training for the singular winter sport of skeleton sled racing.

As each man faces the physical and emotional challenges of treatment for cancer, they embark on the desperate search to find bone marrow donors. Unrelated victims of the disease, their individual efforts become a united mission to bring awareness to the world’s population about the dire need for bone marrow donation. In each case, the search for a match in the International Bone Marrow Registry brings to light two vital facts: how complex and challenging the situation is, in finding identical bone marrow matches, and how easy and non-invasive it is to be tested for donation and added to the Registry.

It turns out that bone marrow matching is not like simple blood-typing. A donor’s tissue type – specifically his or her human leukocyte antigen (HLA) – must be compatible with a patient’s. HLAs are protein markers, found in most cells in the body to help the immune system recognize which cells belong there and which do not. It also turns out that about 70 percent of patients who need a transplant do not have a suitable donor in their family – thus the importance of a worldwide Registry of tissue types.

Those disembodied fact and statistics mentioned above: Every year there are 140,000 new cases of blood cancers diagnosed. Every ten minutes, a person will die from a blood cancer.

In their separate searches for the match that would save their lives, Brecker, Chippendale and Adebiyi mounted massive bone marrow donor drives in the US, Israel, Africa and elsewhere, effectively increasing the Registry by thousands and thereby making possible bone marrow matches for countless other needy patients. Their stories reveal some of the tragedy and loss, strength and hope of all who face such a fight for survival.

More to Live For was co-produced by Chippendale and Brecker’s widow Susan Brecker. The Hudson Valley Programmers’ Group will screen the documentary at three locations in the Hudson Valley, and is proud to introduce filmmaker Noah Hutton at each event. Hutton will conduct question-and-answer sessions at the end of the showings, and will hold on-the-spot bone marrow donation screenings through Chippendale’s Love, Hope and Strength Foundation.

More to Live For will be screened on Thursday, December 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Spectrum 8, located at 290 Delaware Avenue in Albany; on Friday, December 9 at 8 p.m. at the Rosendale Theatre, located at 408 Main Street in Rosendale; and on Saturday, December 10 at 8:15 p.m. at the Downing Film Center, located at 19 Front Street in Newburgh. Ticket information for the respective venues can be found at www.spectrum8.com, www.rosendaletheatre.org and www.downingfilmcenter.com. Further details are available online at www.hvpg.org.

 

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