The award-winning documentary The Greater Good has been slowly opening in theaters across the country creating a viral support group of parents and fans. Following the opening in New York on November 18, the film will be available to purchase online. Looking behind the fear, hype, and politics that have polarized the vaccine debate in America today, the filmmakers have created an opportunity for a rational and scientific discussion to develop a safer and more effective vaccine program.
I sat down for an exclusive interview with the filmmakers Chris Pilaro and Leslie Manookian.
What made you decide to get into filmmaking?
Chris: Telling stories is a great way to share information and documentary filmmaking is a great way to tell stories that may not otherwise be told and shared with others.
Leslie: Film is such a rich media where the viewer experiences a story through sight, sound and emotion in the shortest time possible. Film allows a sense of an issue to be conveyed in a way that no other media allows.
Where did the idea for The Greater Good come from?
Leslie: I was living in London working in finance when I met a guy who told me that vaccines could cause harm. I had always been confident that vaccines were one of humankind’s greatest achievements and thought the guy was a bit nuts. But he told me about a book on vaccines to read so I did. The book had over 900 references to mainstream medical literature detailing a variety of adverse reactions and problems after vaccination. I was very taken aback but not knowing the author of the book, I did not trust that what he had written was true. I determined that one day I was going to make a film on vaccines; to seek out experts from all sides who had given their lives to this issue, to look them in the eye myself and provide them the opportunity to give their perspective, so that I could find out first hand what we did and did not know about vaccines. Shortly after I moved home to the U.S., I was fortunate to meet Kendall Nelson and Chris Pilaro, two talented and experienced filmmakers and asked them if they wanted to help me make a film on vaccines. Chris was very busy with other projects but we decided to come together to explore this complex issue and to create a safe and sane place for viewers to discuss this very important and timely topic.
What did you learn from the process of making this film?
Chris: That five years is a long time and that a lot can happen and change throughout the filmmaking process in that time. While making a long format documentary you have to be open to the process and allow things to unfold in front of you and allow time to pass so that stories become clearer and characters have time to develop.
Leslie: We also learned that this issue is not black and white but many many shades of grey. What works for one family or child with one medical history may not work for another because we are all biologically different and we all need to be free to make choices about what we put into our bodies. It also became clear just how passionately the different experts were about their perspectives and that there is so much we don’t know about vaccines and that knowledge gap needs to be filled.
What did you do that you consider to be unique and/or original for this project?
Chris: Being a controversial topic and an issue based film one of the most interesting and helpful things we did was to consciously work with people who shared different, even opposing, view points and opinions on the subject of vaccines and vaccines safety. Having team members challenge one another and push for deeper understanding and clarity helped show the issue with all its complexities and nuances ultimately making it more accessible to audiences that also may have varying beliefs.
Any war stories you can share from the making of the film? Biggest challenges?
Leslie: One of the hardest parts of making the film was getting people to participate. In particular, we wanted to film with families who had had children injured by vaccines and we also wanted to film with the families of children injured by infectious diseases. As we talked with more and more families and health authorities, we kept hitting a brick wall with families whose children had died or been affected by infectious diseases. They simply would not appear in a film where time was given to the families of children who had been harmed by a vaccine. They only wanted to appear if their side was told and no other. It was also interesting that when we approached pro-vaccine organizations to ask for help with finding families or when we approached pro-vaccine experts to film with, we were met with a great deal of skepticism and suspicion but we were welcomed by the families and experts who had concerns about vaccines. It was very peculiar to us as we felt that an injury or death was a tragedy whether it was caused by an illness or a vaccine and that both stories should be told and both lives should be valued.
What other projects are you planning for the future?
Chris: At this point we are focused on getting The Greater Good seen by the broadest audience possible and are launching a Community Engagement Campaign in 2012 to help ensure the success of the film. This campaign will engage and empower people to host screenings in their communities and help further the much needed discussion surrounding the topic of vaccines.