Wednesday, June 13, 2007

AFI Silver Documentary Film Festival; film: Coma

On Tuesday June 12, 2007 the American Film Institute AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD started its 2007 Documentary Film Festival, which runs through Sunday June 17. About 125 films (many of them shorts) will be exhibited. The website is

At the same time, AFI Silverdocs and the nearby Discovery Channel (also located in Silver Spring, easily seen from the Metro) is sponsoring the 2007 International Documentary Conference.

Today I went to my own first event there, a screening of the new HBO Documentary Coma, directed by Liz Garbus (90 min). It is scheduled to air on HBO July 3 (and normally this would go on my “TV” blog, but since it was screened in the festival I put it here). The film is shot in old 4:3 aspect ratio (even though most cable films now are the standard 1.85 to 1 since more customers have widescreen TV). (The film should not be confused with other films of the same name, including the 1978 thriller on the novel by Robin Cook, directed by Michael Crichton. The AFI website for the HBO film is this.

It’s important to become familiar with the medical concepts of coma, persistent vegetative state, and minimally conscious state. A patient in a persistent vegetative state for more than one year typically has poor prognosis for improvement. A definitive site is the Brain Injury Association of America.

The film mentions Terri Schiavo and Terry Wallis, but mainly focuses on following four brain injury cases, all with different outcomes. Tom, a 31-year old sales manager, is injured in a fall from a balcony, but soon is able to show evidence of purposeful response, and soon is fully conscious, but has painfully show rebab. Sean, a 20-year-old college student, is thrown off a bridge in an assault (whether a hate crime or robbery is not said), and, while showing tears, is never able to progress out of the PVS. An African American auto accident victim progresses but then declines and dies. A young woman slowly progresses, and her mother takes her home. The film shows the team professional rehabilitation in great detail.

One aspect that goes with the visual communication of film: One could see these young people, what they had looked like, and how attractive they had been. This makes this particular film, especially in a theater, hard to watch; it is not so difficult at home on television. Yet, the audience laughed (inappropriately) or giggled at some of the clumsy attempts of Tom, especially, to speak.

After the film, we had a reception and panel discussion in the nearby Cinema Lounge in Silver Spring, while a backdoor thunderstorm exploded outside. An additional twelve minute film “Terry Wallis”, again directed by Liz Garbus, was shown. This is the case of the man who was injured in an auto accident in 1984, and started coming out of minimal consciousness in 2003. His grown daughter now helps rehabilitate him.

The May 2007 issue of Scientific American had an article on brain injury, including a diagram showing the non-linear relationship between conscious wakfefullness, sleep, rem sleep and dreams, minimally conscious state, and persistent vegetative state. Much Scientific American content requires hardcopy purchase or online subscription to see. Sites 2

When I had my acetabular fracture in Minneapolis in 1998, I spent one week in “acute care rehab” – a nice name for a skilled nursing facility – after surgery and a week in the University of Minnesota hospital. I dealt with the leg that just would not lift. I saw other people in the rehab room walk on artificial limbs for the first time. Finally, after about three days of rehab I started passing through an inflection point and got to the point quickly that I could get up and get around on crutches.

Update: June 28, 2007

The Dr. Phil show today mentioned a new film "Through Your Eyes" (2007, Hands Free Productions, dir. Donny Hall and Cory Hudson) about the only known deaf-blind triplets in the world. The link is this, and includes a pre-order purchase page. The mother was divorced, and the man who married her and took on this situation was on the show. There is also a YouTube excerpt at this link.

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