Media Maker, Academic, Nerd

Dominic Guest Blog Post

The Show Me Justice Film Festival asked if I would blog about making A Dose for Dominic. They just posted it to their website here. You can also read it below:

As the start of the 4th Annual Show Me Justice Film Festival approaches, we continue our guest blogger series with a poignant, eye-opening post by Ruth Gregory, the director of the documentary A Dose for Dominic. Gregory’s film centers on two parents’ decision to treat their severely autistic 5 year-old son, Dominic, with medical cannabis.

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Thank you for the opportunity to talk a little more about my short film A Dose for Dominic. The crew and I finished the film a little over a year ago and it now feels like a great time to revisit the intense conversations that were going on behind the scenes about parenting, health care, social justice, class, and ableism. It is also a welcomed chance to talk about some of the social justice issues that did not make it to the final cut since there is only so much you can put into a seven-minute film!

We made Dominic during the 2013 International Documentary Challenge – a timed filmmaking competition where participants have five days to make a film from start to finish. We had brainstormed a lot of ideas before the competition started, but the story of Dominic and his family was definitely at the top of our list. We weren’t/aren’t all adamant pro-pot supporters, but there was something about the controversy about the topic that really drew everyone to it. We knew that if it was evoking deep discussion amongst the group then it would make for a great film. When we got the parameters for the competition at 8am on the first day (a “genre” of science/technology and a theme of harmony), there wasn’t a lot of further discussion about which way we’d go. The shooting crew threw their overnight bags in a couple of cars and we headed 3 hours East of Seattle to Wenatchee to start filming.

Producer/Cinematographer Daniel Berman was the one who brought this idea to the table and was/is the most involved in the legalize movement. He’d done a story about Dominic and his family for Northwest Leaf, a regional medical cannabis publication. Dominic, they ascertained, was the youngest medical user in the state. Most of us were not as well educated about the issue of medical cannabis. Amanda Harryman, one of the editors, said: “I was relatively clueless about much of medical cannabis and I therefore learned a whole lot because of this project. Including what symptoms it can be used to treat, a small amount about how collectives work, and the shear variety of methods one can use medical cannabis.” I would agree that I wasn’t aware of all the issues when we went into filming; something that I would normally not advocate for documentary directors! But the constraints of the competition didn’t allow for the normal research time I’d usually give myself to get fully informed about a subject before shooting. Thus, the whole process was about being open to hearing new truths and adjusting our perceptions and plans as we went along.

Producer Luke Ware, Cinematographer David Ryder, and I all met in a Cultural Studies graduate program at the University of Washington Bothell. So we felt like we were pretty informed about social justice issues in general going into production, but there were so many things that were brought up that we had never even thought about; many of which we also did not have time to dive into during a short film so it is nice to have an opportunity to air them here.

The first surprising social justice issue came up when I was interviewing Pam Woodard, owner of several medical cannabis related businesses. I said “medical marijuana” early in our interview and she stopped me and said that I should say “medical cannabis” instead. I asked her why and she replied that “marijuana” is the term for the cannabis plant that originates in Mexican Spanish. When the United States started cracking down on the cannabis plant in the 1930s the name marijuana was used instead of cannabis, thus playing on deeply embedded issues of racism in our culture to help get cannabis banned and, eventually, classified as a schedule 1 drug; meaning that it has no medical value whatsoever and also makes it incredibly difficult for researchers to get permission to do tests using it. Heroin and cocaine are other schedule 1 drugs.

The second big social justice issue that was brought up in the filmmaking process that caught many of us off guard was the clear connection between class and cannabis. Pharmaceutical companies regularly lobby against legalizing cannabis for medicinal or recreational use. This is because if pot becomes widely used to treat the many ailments that researchers are starting to believe it could treat, then it would be a huge financial blow to the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, right now cannabis is pretty well accepted to have anti-inflammatory properties. Imagine all the money you could save over a lifetime if you never had to buy ibuprofen again; instead you’d buy a cannabis seed packet for a couple of buckets and then grow your own remedy yourself. While my personal ibuprofen expenditures aren’t egregious, imagine how it might help people with chronic pain that need more expensive drugs to keep their symptoms in check. In Dominic’s case, the alternative drug (an anti-psychotic that was not recommended for people under 18) that he was prescribed had a price tag of $80 a week. The difference in expense for Dominic’s medication for his parents is huge!

As I watched the final cuts of A Dose for Dominic with the score that our composer Scott Bowen created for it, I started to get teary. I’ve been a documentary filmmaker for twenty years and I am very proud of my body of work, but there aren’t a lot of films I’ve been a part of that have made me so emotional when I’ve screen the final cuts. Usually by the time we get to the that stage, no matter how important the topic, I am so done with watching it over and over and over and over again, I can’t wait to get it to get it done and move on. However, the story of Dominic really moves me and I don’t think I am the only one who feels this way. I’ve been at several screenings and seen audience members visibly crying. Watching people get touched by a film you’ve made is one of the reasons I keep making films; they are a great way to communicate ideas in a really direct way. A Dose for Dominic makes me proud to be a documentary filmmaker and social justice activist. I hope you enjoy it and it provokes as much discussion in your circles as it did in ours.