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2012, 119m, documentary
Stigmafollows filmmakers Jeff Johns and Ryan Loughridge as they travel the globe to discover why more hasn't been done to completely eradicate the existence of Leprosy in the world. Through India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, they talk to WHO doctors and aid workers, while visiting numerous colonies and hospitals to meet those affected by the disease and to understand the life-changing stigma it has created for them and for their families.
10 questions with Stigma director, Jeff Johns at the half-way mark.
Sunday, February 21st, 2016
1Hi Jeff! What made you want to make a doc on leprosy? Ryan (our DP) and I had just graduated from film school and knew the best time to hit the road and try to tell a story that needed telling was right after we took off our caps and gowns. We bought our tickets and started per production almost immediately after graduation.
The story was an important one to us, one that I had done smaller stories on during the years leading up to making STIGMA. With so many millions of people affected each year, we were shocked to find how little was not only being done about it but the fact that the average person had no idea this disease had even existed past biblical times.
2Out of all the places you traveled, which country would be your first choice to live in if you had to? Well, this is an easy one. We filled in India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam and a year after the film was complete and doing the festival circuit I moved to Thailand where I spent the next two years.
3The cinematography is so beautiful. What camera(s) did you use and how did you decide who shot what? We shot this very simple. We took two backpacks and a tripod. We shot with one Canon 5D and one Canon 7D, and thats it. Plain and simple.
4What was the biggest eye opening experience from your trip? I think when we ended up in a communist government run leprosy hospital on the outskirts of Saigon, Vietnam we really saw how some people with this disease were being treated and the horrible conditions so many of them lived their daily lives in.
5What do you think would need to happen to cure the stigma of leprosy? Education and awareness, thats it. The WHO refused to be part of this film. The didn't give us an official statement and refused to let us speak with any of their doctors or film in the hospitals they funded. They decided to announce that leprosy was eradicated on Jan 1, 2000 and they did just that. They failed to publicize that by their definition "eradicated" meant less than 1% of a countries population could have it - which in India alone means well over 1 million new cases a year.
6What was the most challenging aspect of making this doc? Gaining access to the hospitals and doctors we thought were needed to tell the story. However, when we started filming we quickly realized the only proper way to tell this story was with the volunteer doctors and nurses and the people affected themselves.
7What's the film that made you want to be a filmmaker? Ohh man, tough question here. For me, the first docs that pop into my mind are the Paradise Lost installments and docs like Silverlake Life and Samsara. Some left me feeling sick to my stomach for exposing injustices and others left butterflies in my stomach for revealing the beauty of the planet around us.
8At what stage is leprosy curable? How early does it have to be diagnosed in order for it to be cured? If you catch leprosy within the first 2 years it is completely curable, with no lasting side effects. After 2 years the body will start to have non reversible changes like the loss of feeling and curled fingers and toes, however even at this point if the medication is taking, the disease will be totally killed within 6 days. As the issue isn't not having the medicine available, and rather the difficulty in getting it to rural areas, we were not at all afraid as even if we got leprosy we could take the pills and immediately stop the spread, a luxury many do not enjoy.
9Can you explain what that beating snake heart tasted like? Hahaha, definitely a strange experience. We were not going to eat a snake if we were going to waste any of it, so the meal was a interesting to say the least. The heart was served with a shot of local Vietnamese vodka, but that wasn't the worst part. In addition to the beating heart, we were also served a jug of about 1 litre of the blood, which we also had to drink. We mixed it with a bottle of vodka and spent the night taking shots of snake blood and vodka.
10What's next? Well, we finished the film in 2012 and it enjoyed a long and successful run on the festival circuit around the US and Europe. Since then we have continued to promote the film, share it wherever we can and have been lucky to raise additional funds for leprosy initiatives around the world.
I currently live in Dubai as a freelance television producer and Ryan lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter as a freelance photographer and videographer for all things motorcycle and outdoor related.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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