GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – This weekend the Adirondack Film Festival hosts its annual mix of shorts and feature-length films, spanning from horror – like small-town monster mystery “Cryptid” – to the historical – like World War II blitzkrieg retelling “Remember This.”
Amidst it all, one documentary showing on Saturday tells a story that ranges from worldwide to hyper-local, all in the span of a single story. Its subject is the same that sent its two co-directors home – and towards each other – in 2015. The subject: Lyme disease.
“I was actually working in narrative film,” said Lindsay Keys, co-director of “The Quiet Epidemic,” which screened at Crandall Public Library on Friday as part of the festival. “I was working with scripts and actors, and I thought my life was going in that direction. Then, when this happened, it became the most obvious story that needed to be told.”
In 2015, Keys left her work and returned home to the Washington County town of Salem, due to complications from her own struggle with Lyme disease. On a visit to her doctor’s office to receive Lyme treatment, she happened to meet her co-director, Winslow Crane-Murdoch – himself a Cropseyville native, who had left his own career in film in order to come back home, for the exact same reason Keys had.
The result of that meeting is “The Quiet Epidemic,” a documentary following two central subjects through their own struggles with the disease, and trying to get answers from a divided medical community. One, Julia Bruzzese, contracted Lyme disease as a girl – and met the directors at the same doctor’s office. The other subject, Dr. Neil Spector, was diagnosed while working as a scientist at Duke University.
The film tells the story of how those two subjects have become caught in the modern-day controversy around Lyme disease, a conversation that includes disagreement on blood test results and how long to treat the disease using antibiotics. The film also reaches beyond those present questions and back into Lyme’s history, dating back to the 1970s.
“It’s a 45-year history that deals with insurance, and patents, and tests, and lots of fun things,” said Crane-Murdoch. “We worked with two incredible journalists who walked us through all of that. They’re the ones who create the spine of the film.”
Talking about it
The two directors created “The Quiet Epidemic” as a way to give viewers a toolbox of understanding the storied past of Lyme disease since its discovery in 1975. Treatment is still a challenge, with debate on whether antibiotics are an effective route at all, let alone whether the CDC-recommended two to four weeks is enough.
To the filmmakers, the biggest challenge in Lyme disease’s future is funding. Science is making breakthroughs on the disease largely thanks to private funding, with public funds not being allocated in large amounts. That’s changing, which is something to celebrate – but still leaves a step.
“Something we’ve emphasized in the film is that, although this science is exciting, nothing has changed for patients,” Crane-Murdoch said. “When we look forward, we need this better science to help us better understand how to better diagnose Lyme disease and better treat patients.”
Lyme is a disease surrounded by questions and fewer answers than anyone would want. Following Friday’s screening, Keys and Crane-Murdoch will be joined by SUNY Adirondack microbiologist and Lyme Action Network vice president Holly Ahern, leading a panel discussion on the struggles that any Lyme patient faces in getting a straight answer.
It’s taken seven years to get “The Quiet Epidemic” made, and the pair isn’t stopping here. A social action campaign is running alongside the film, centered on its website. Those who want to take part can sign up for a newsletter, share their own Lyme disease story, find out how to contact their local representatives to ask for research advocacy and request a screening of the film near them.
“The Quiet Epidemic” has already made it to several film festivals, coming away with praise from the “Hot Docs” documentary festival in Toronto. For Crane-Murdoch and Keys, the Adirondack Film Festival is special – it’s a homecoming that started seven years ago, with a doctor’s office visit that would be more life-changing than just the disease could dictate.
“I think we were always wondering when this moment would happen,” Keys said. “When would we finish the film, and when would we bring it back to the area that really supported us along with it.”
The Adirondack Film Festival continues into the weekend, with a full final day on Saturday. In-person, streaming and hybrid passes can all be purchased through the festival website for anyone hoping to catch something unique onscreen this weekend.