In Kansas City, a loving grandfather is struck down by a debilitating illness with mysterious, environmental origins, and faces an agonizing decision: an uncertain, unhealthy future with his family or the lure of an isolated, "safe" community built for "sensitives" like him.
As his wife and daughter struggle to find a way to keep their family together, we meet others that have faced the same impossible choices: an aging mother and her two adult sons living in self-imposed quarantine deep in the Arizona desert, and an activist, in fragile recovery, who haunts the hallways and conference rooms of disability advocates to build support for a malady that no one seems to understand.
The stories of The Sensitives will raise empathy and awareness for those struggling with chronic illnesses like Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and others with misunderstood disabilities.
Why I'm Making this Film
For the past 3+ years, I've driven and flown tens of thousand of miles to meet families whose lives have been reshaped by MCS. To be as free of the chemicals in our everyday environment when filming them, I would wear clothing given to me by them, camp on their land, and use specific natural soaps.
As someone with no prior personal connection to this illness, I was compelled to take on this challenging project, to eventually get past the masks and foil-lined rooms to meet the artists, social workers, and grandparents inside. This is what I intend The Sensitives to show: the ordinary people driven to the fringes because of a very misunderstood condition.
My greatest hope for this project would be to spark meaningful discussions about how we think about illness and health and inspire more research for a community that badly needs it.
Watch this behind-the-scenes video of how I shot the film:
We Need Your Help Because
This campaign is about much more for us than raising funds. It's about showing the many people trying to change the perception of chronic illness, MCS, and other similar conditions.
It's through these intimate stories that we will create empathy and awareness about an experience that is usually dismissed.
Our initial goal for this campaign will bring us to a rough cut of the film. Samples and teasers are great for getting folks excited, but it's only with a first cut of the whole film that we can begin taking the next steps into broadcast and distribution. To that end, we're very proud to already have the support of these film organizations:
What is MCS/Environmental Illness?
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)—also known as simply Chemical Sensitivity (CS) and Environmental Illness (EI) —is poorly understood. Even the names given to the condition are over-simplifying and rarely agreed upon. However, people can develop severe migraines, rashes, fatigue, and loss of motor and speech skills when exposed to ordinary things like cleaning products, pesticides, and sometimes electronic and wireless technologies.
As with PTSD in the 1960s, viewed by the medical profession and much of society as a lapse of character in malingering Vietnam vets, sufferers of MCS find themselves isolated from family and friends, labeled, and treated with suspicion. The Sensitives explores an illness that tests families’ bonds like few others. Without an agreed-upon medical explanation the sick and their caretakers must figure out how to get better on their own.
When we speak to others about this film, we find that almost everyone has a story about a family member or acquaintance who suffers from similar unexplained neurological reactions; some peer-reviewed studies have estimated that in California at least 15% of persons can be identified on the spectrum of symptoms. This is a population we want to introduce to the world.
Every Dollar Will Help With
- A brilliant editor and assistant to help sift through and craft the 160+ hours of footage!
- Travel and lodging for the editor and director to keep them side-by-side for as much of the process as possible.
- External hard drives and other editing supplies because the terabytes can add up.
Two VERY Special Rewards Explained
At the $60 level and above you can now (as of June 25th) have an entire 7-song album of original music by two of the film's subjects, Sam and Nathan! ($15 will still get you a download of one of their songs and all pledges above $60 previous to this announcement automatically receive this new gift!)
They couldn't leave their home and I couldn't ever go inside. Recorded with microphones poking through windows in their tiny home, their music is as raw and beautiful as the surrounding landscape. Watch and enjoy this sample!
At the $250 level, we are lucky enough to be able to offer 20 limited-edition signed copies of the book that inspired this whole project, Thilde Jensen's Canaries. It features dozens of beautiful and haunting images taken all over the country of lives reshaped by this illness.
Meet Our Amazing Team!
Drew Xanthopoulos (Director/Cinematographer) - A Montanan at heart, Drew currently hangs his hat as a filmmaker and cinematographer in Austin, Texas. He is a recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute’s Documentary Grant and IFP's Documentary Spotlight in 2014 for The Sensitives. His award-winning documentary short, Western Brothers’ Adventure Story, has screened internationally and is used by youth education programs such as The Young Storytellers Foundation in Los Angeles and the Vimeo Video School. In 2011, he was nominated for the American Society of Cinematographers’ Student Heritage Award. Drew works regularly as a documentary, narrative, and commercial cinematographer and his projects have premiered at Sundance, SXSW, Edinburgh International Film Festival, and AFI Docs among others.
David Hartstein (Producer) - David is an Emmy award winning documentary producer who calls Austin home. Immediately out of film school, David produced and directed Along Came Kinky: Texas Jewboy for Governor, a feature documentary chronicling Kinky Friedman’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign that premiered at SXSW 2009. He is the producer of The Happy Poet, a feature comedy that had its international premiere at the 67th Venice International Film Festival. He was a producer of Where Soldiers Come From, nationally broadcast on PBS and winner of the News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Continuing Coverage of a News Story. Recently David was a producer of America’s Parking Lot, a feature doc about Dallas Cowboys’ tailgaters that aired on ESPN in 2013.
Andrea Meditch (Consulting Producer) - Andrea is founding president of Back Allie Films, where she executive-produced Dangerous Acts, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was broadcast on HBO in July 2014. She also executive produced and was creative advisor for Buck, which won the 2011 Sundance Audience Award and was the sixth highest-grossing independent film of the summer. She executive-produced the 2009 Oscar-winner Man On Wire and Oscar-nominated Encounters at the End of the World. Previously she spent fifteen years at Discovery Communications, where she launched Discovery Films.
Christopher Lucas (Associate Producer) - Chris was a producer on Fiege Films’ award-winning documentary Above All Else (2014), which premiered at SXSW 2014 and has been seen at film festivals worldwide. More recently he helped produce the short Wake*Up Dead Men, a retrospective on the work of photographer Bruce Jackson. He also served as associate producer on Living Springs, an interactive environmental documentary about Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. He has worked on numerous commercial projects as writer, director, or producer. He holds an appointment as Visiting Professor of film and new media at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.
Lynsey Tamsen Jones (Associate Producer) - Lynsey is co-producer of the environmentally focused nonprofit production company, Citizen-Powered Media. She acted as Associate Producer of their feature documentary Hooked on Growth (2011). She also Associate Produced the upcoming documentary The Seer (dir. Laura Dunn). She was also Coordinating Producer of the CNN docuseries High Profits. Lynsey is currently producing a documentary concerning environmental philosophy.
Hanan Townshend (Composer) - Hanan is a New Zealand-born composer based out of Austin, Texas. He has completed several feature films and documentaries working alongside directors such as Drew Xanthopoulos, Nicolas Siegenthaler, Russell Bush and critically-acclaimed director Terrence Malick. His most recent projects include The Tree Of Life and, To The Wonder, Malick’s newest film starring Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko & Rachel McAdams.
Thank you for donating what you can and sharing this page with your friends and community to help raise awareness!
Risks and challenges
The Sensitives is almost entirely finished with production—only a few shooting days remain—so, while documentary filmmaking always comes with some inherent risks, the most risky stages are past us.
What remains is developing the most compelling story in a timely way, funding post-production, and finding an audience for the films, first at festivals and later, if possible, through broadcast and digital platforms. Our initial goal of $50,000 will bring us to a rough cut and open doors immediately after but there's a good deal of funding to raise after that to bring us to a final cut and for distribution.
However, as we continue to apply to grants and foundations we're confident that the momentum we gain with this Kickstarter campaign will speak worlds to those potential funders down the line.
Our encouragement and support from outstanding groups like Tribeca Film Institute, Sundance Artist Services, Independent Film Project, the Austin Film Society and others will help us mitigate, if not remove entirely, the risks and challenges of finding the audience for the film.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)