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Ken Burns To Make Cancer Documentary for 2015

By Rich Heldenfels Published: June 4, 2013

The official word: Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., award-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Simon & Schuster 2010), and acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns will collaborate on a new documentary inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, both parties announced today. The film CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies will be directed by the award-winning filmmaker Barak Goodman with Burns as executive producer, and will air on PBS in the spring of 2015.

 

Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) that works to accelerate innovative cancer research and to increase awareness about progress being made in the fight against the disease, will partner with WETA Washington, D.C., the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation’s capital and production partner on all Ken Burns films, to create a national outreach and engagement campaign surrounding the film.  This companion initiative will be one of the largest, most comprehensive educational programs in the history of documentary filmmaking.  Elements of the campaign will include educational materials, screenings and conferences, and a robust digital footprint intended to spearhead a national conversation about the history of this disease, the personal experience of those afflicted, groundbreaking research, and the quest for a cure.

 

Burns and Mukherjee were brought together by WETA President and CEO Sharon Percy Rockefeller soon after she read Mukherjee’s book during treatment for cancer at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

 

“Cancer touches nearly everyone in this country, and public media can play a vital role in educating Americans about this disease. We will illuminate cancer as never before, exploring in depth its history, sharing the experiences of those battling it, and offering new hope by spotlighting some of the most extraordinary research being done today,” Rockefeller said. “When I read Sid’s amazing work and met him, I knew he and Ken could create a film that would inform and inspire us all.  With Stand Up To Cancer and other key organizations as sponsors and outreach partners — and harnessing the resources, reach and power of the entire public broadcasting system — we will profoundly reshape Americans’ understanding and perception of cancer.”

 

Mukherjee had assigned television and film rights to the book to Stand Up To Cancer at the urging of SU2C Co-Founder Laura Ziskin. Ziskin, an award-winning film producer, had hoped to produce a documentary about cancer since the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the disease that ultimately took her life in June 2011. Soon after Rockefeller connected with Ziskin in early 2011, planning for the documentary began in earnest.

 

The three-part, six-hour film will weave together three different stories: a riveting historical documentary, an engrossing and intimate vérité film that focuses on current patients, and a scientific and investigative report.

 

“I am of course honored to have an opportunity to work with such accomplished filmmakers and with such inspiring partners,” Dr. Mukherjee noted. “Emperor very much grew out of my experience as a cancer physician trying to navigate and to understand this historic disease. Treating cancer is one of the most significant human challenges we’ve ever faced. But now, for the first time, we are at an extraordinary moment in the history of cancer research because we finally are beginning to understand what causes cancer at a cellular, or molecular, or a genetic level in a way we just did not know ten years ago or even five years ago.  This project will provide the public with a clearer vision of where we are in this extraordinary journey.”

 

Ken Burns said, “My work as a filmmaker is directly linked to the death of my mother from cancer when I was 11. From the age of three, I watched her suffer and struggle with this awful disease, forever creating for me a desire to explore the past and to listen deeply to the stories that we all have to tell. I was frightened and exhilarated by Sid’s book and thrilled by Sharon’s suggestion that we collaborate to turn this remarkable accomplishment into a film.”

 

Barak Goodman, who in addition to directing the film will serve as the series producer, observed, “This is such a rich, historic and still tragic story that it challenges us as filmmakers every day. But it is also a moment of great optimism that at last we may be turning the tables on this disease. I want people to come away from our film with less fear and more hope about the future of cancer.”

 

“We applaud Sharon’s vision for this project and know that bringing together the creative forces of Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, Ken Burns and Barak Goodman will result in a powerful film,” said Paula A. Kerger, PBS President and CEO. “Leveraging the power of PBS stations, Stand Up To Cancer and other partners, this wide-reaching initiative will create an important dialogue about this terrible disease. This is just the kind of content of consequence that is the hallmark of public media.”

 

Integral to the film is the extensive outreach program that will be created by Stand Up To Cancer and WETA, in collaboration with an unprecedented array of partners. Production funders Genentech, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, David H. Koch and Siemens will support project initiatives to expand the reach of the series. Additionally, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) will participate in the effort. The involvement of these two 100+ year-old organizations, each a leader in the fight against the disease, will enable the film to reach an even larger audience, engaging researchers and patients in the national conversation about the topic.

 

In the months building up to the national broadcast premiere, the group will organize screenings and discussions in cities across the country, working with local public television stations and a wide range of educational, medical and cancer organizations. In addition, WETA will create a curriculum based on the film that will be shared with teachers in schools throughout the country, and there are plans to provide materials to colleges, universities, and nursing and medical schools, as well.

 

The project will also include a robust website — www.emperorofallmaladies.org — and social and digital media components. The interactive website will include a mixture of produced and user-generated content that will explore ideas and pose questions that will thrive in the digital space — content that can be engaged with online long before the film airs. While the site will contain vast amounts of useful information, it will not be primarily a medical resource. Instead, it will engage people on the level of personal narrative. The goal is to attract not only the vast cancer community of patients and survivors, family members, caregivers, scientists, and clinicians and other healthcare providers — but also the public at large.

 

“The national outreach for this film will be unprecedented in scope and impact,” said Stand Up To Cancer Co-Founder and journalist Katie Couric. “One in two men and one in three women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. We firmly believe that if we are able to further engage the country in a meaningful conversation about the disease, we can better help the doctors and scientists working 24/7 to end it. Today’s research holds extraordinary promise, and since we are all affected by cancer, it’s important everyone understands that.”

 

CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies is a production of Florentine Films, Laura Ziskin Pictures and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Ark Media. Funding for CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies is provided by Genentech, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, David H. Koch, and Siemens. Outreach partners are Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation; the American Association for Cancer Research; and the American Cancer Society.

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