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Canary In A Coalmine: Kickstarter campaign

Sunday 27 October 2013


From Kickstarter:



Canary in a Coal Mine

by Jennifer Brea

A film about life with M.E., the most prevalent and devastating disease your doctor has never heard of.

Our appeal video has been subtitled in Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and Spanish on YouTube. Bring it to your native language. | @canaryfilm | #seeME | #MEAlly

The story

Jennifer, a Harvard PhD student, was signing a check at a restaurant when she found she could not write her own name. Months before her wedding, she became progressively more ill, losing the ability even to sit in a wheelchair. Doctors insisted that her condition was psychosomatic rather than real.

As she dug deeper, she found she had become a part of a hidden world of millions suffering from an illness for which there is evidence dating back to at least the 1930s. The disease, myalgic encephalomyelitis, was re-branded in the 1980s by the CDC as 'Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,' a name which became both a punchline and a Rorschach: a wastebasket of undiagnosed conditions hiding a very real disease. Scientists at the country's top institutions have found evidence of profound metabolic, neurological, and immunological dysfunction in patients with M.E.. However, since the disease is not taught in medical schools, doctors don't know how to recognize it, effectively denying healthcare to a million Americans.

In Canary in a Coal Mine, Jennifer documents her own story and the stories of Jessica, a young British woman who runs a children's charity from the room that has been her whole world for the last eight years, Howard, an 80s rock publicist-polymath, Mary, an activist, Liisa, a Canadian ex-buddhist monk, and Leeray and Casie, a mother and daughter bedridden in Georgia. Through extreme diets, experimental medication, political activism, or by moving closer, or farther, from God, each struggles to find their own way to fight, accept, and sometimes, even thrive in spite of 'an illness that has no end.'

Watch the preview

Why tell this story?

This is also a story that reveals deep flaws in our modern approach to medicine and the delivery of healthcare, the tensions between science and medicine. Medicine has always been troubled diseases patients could feel or demonstrate, but it could not "objectively" measure. This is especially true when it came to female patients. Medicine locked epileptics in insane asylums before the invention of the EEG. It debated as to the true nature of Multiple Sclerosis before the MRI came along in the 1970s. In some countries, patients with severe ME are still forcibly institutionalized. What has happened to this disease has happened before and is likely to happen again.

Whether or not you have a chronic illness, everyone at some point will face a difficult, confusing, or scary health issue; or it will happen to someone they love; or they will confront some other obstacle that will alter the course of their lives and destroy the image they once had of their personal future. When that happens, how will we react? Will it destroy us? Or will we be able to make beautiful things grow from those dark places?

Our approach

To touch a wide audience, we believe we need to connect to universal themes and show the world what it really looks and feels like to live with this illness--the sorrows, yes, but also the joys and moments of grace.

We will tell the story of M.E.: the history, the science, the politics, but through the stories of our main characters: patients who will bring us into their day-to-day lives and help us to experience, through them, what it is to live with a severe chronic illness. We ask them to turn their smart phones and digital cameras on their own stories. This is important because we often don’t look as ill as we feel every single moment of the day, and our symptoms wax and wane in severity, as do our feelings about the future.

The film makes use of a combination of studio-shot interviews, artfully-composed b-roll, archival footage, and self-filmed diaries.

The Title

Canary in a Coal Mine is, at its heart, a question: what does this illness signify about the world we live in and what do we all risk by ignoring the voices of the sick and the profoundly invisible? What could we all learn by paying attention to those voices?

Who is behind this film?

Jennifer Brea, Producer/Director

Jennifer is a doctoral student in the Department of Government at Harvard University on indefinite medical leave. Prior to that, she was a print journalist in Beijing and East Africa. She is a TED Fellow, and earned her AB in Politics from Princeton University.

Kiran Chitanvis, Creative Producer/ DP

Kiran is an independent filmmaker. She has worked on numerous short and feature films that have played at festivals around the world. A member of the inaugural class at the Tisch Asia Singapore campus, she holds an MFA in Film and Television Production from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She earned an AB in Politics from Princeton University.

In addition, we are supported by: Toni Bernard, Howard Bloom, Eva Hagberg, Sarah Allegra, and Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

How will the funds raised on Kickstarter help you to make this film?

The money we raise on Kickstarter will allow us to go into production next year and will fund the time, equipment rental, and travel expenses of our Director of Photography, an assistant camera person, and a sound mixer as they shoot on location in Canada, the UK, around the US and possible on or two additional international sites.

$50,000 will get us to the end of production. If that were all we raised, we could make a film we are quite proud of for release online. However, to make a film that we believe will change the face of this illness forever, that is just the beginning. Our ultimate goal is to raise at least $200,000 through a combination of online fundraising, grants, and the support of a small cadre of executive producers.

OK, I am psyched, how do I help make this film happen?

First, give and give generously, whatever that means for you. Every dollar counts.

Second, spread the word! Crowdfunding campaigns reach and exceed their goals when very large amounts of people donate small amounts of money. So click on this link and share our page on Twitter and Facebook. Email your friends and family.

Then, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook. Stay up to date with the latest on the campaign.

If you are interested in making a tax-deductible donation or investing in the project in a deeper way, email We'd love to have a conversation.


We're offering a range of awards to say thank you for helping the world to #seeME!


The full article can be found here.


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