No. 19: “On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place,” a documentary movie
Context at the end of this excerpt.
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!
Released in 2009 by Eagle Peak Media
From scripts written but not produced to one I wrote that actually was: that is the backstory to “On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place,” the first documentary I wrote and co-produced.
The film grew out of my long friendship with the late Frank Beazley, a patient for decades after a devastating accident at the state-run Zambarano Hospital in rural Rhode Island. My 12-part 2006 Providence Journal series about Frank, “The Growing Season,” remains my favorite newspaper series (it has competition!). You can read that HERE.
"On the Lake" movie premiered on February 13, 2009, to a sellout crowd at the Stadium art theater in Woonsocket, R.I., and was subsequently shown at festivals and broadcast on PBS. It was nominated for a New England Emmy.
A DVD was sold and “On the Lake” earned my first listing on IMDB. Full cast and crew there.
WATCH “On the Lake” on YouTube
ON THE LAKE: Life and Love in a Distant Place, a film by David Bettencourt and G. Wayne Miller, tells the true story of the tuberculosis epidemic in 1900s America and globally today through the lives of those that were infected and who died –– but also of those who survived. More than scientific facts and figures, ON THE LAKE touches that rare emotional cord of what life was like for millions of people infected with TB, while providing a glimpse into human nature when faced with a large-scale epidemic.
Through powerful storytelling, ON THE LAKE shines new light on a major period in our collective history that has been forgotten –– and a disease that many today think is “dead,” but is in fact the number-two infectious killer globally (after HIV/AIDS).
The feature documentary opens with America in the early 1900s –– the free-spirited era of Marconi, Edison and the Wright Brothers. But there is a dark side to the dawn of the American Century: A disease that no one understands is the number-one killer of the time. People are suspicious of strangers and even family members. Victims of the White Plague, as TB is known, are shipped off to remote sanatoriums, where doctors hope fresh air, months or years of bed rest, and good food will prove curative. Many die –– but many survive, and even meet and fall in love.
ON THE LAKE tells this story with rare footage and stills, interviews with TB experts, and interviews with TB survivors and their relatives. Production began in November 2007 at state-run Zambarano Hospital on remote Wallum Lake in northern Rhode Island –– a hospital that began life in 1905 as a tuberculosis sanatorium. Granted access to the hospital’s entire photographic archives and records, the filmmakers began to depict the desperation Americans felt with this disease that can be spread by a simple cough or sneeze. They captured harsh conditions endured by patients –– sleeping outdoors year-round (even in snowy winters), for example.
From Rhode Island, production moved to Saranac Lake, New York, the largest treatment center for TB patients east of the Mississippi; Denver, Colorado, the largest center in the West; Massachusetts; Baltimore, Maryland; and North Carolina.
The emotional heart of the movie is the many accounts of people, some now in their 80s, who survived TB and years in what was essentially exile –– miles from home, in a strange environment, cut off from family and friends except for occasional visits and letters. One account is of a man, now in his 60s, who contracted the disease only a few years ago –– most likely after exposure to the germ when he was a child.
Some of the reviews:
–– “Spell-binding,” “heart-wrenching,” and “unforgettable,” said NBC-10, WJAR-TV, which gave the movie five stars.
–– “An intelligent, well-researched and heartfelt film that’s consistently entertaining,” said The Providence Journal, which gave move four stars.
–– “An emotionally powerful true-life tale of friendship and love in tragic circumstances,” said WPRI-TV, CBS-12.
–– “Tugs gently at the heart strings,” said Motif Magazine.