Winston-Salem filmmaker makes waves with award-winning medical documentary
The feature documentary Burzynski will run from May 28-June 3 at the a/perture cinema (311 W. 4 th St., Winston-Salem). The film marks the feature debut of filmmaker Eric Merola, who was born and raised in Winston-Salem.
Burzynski has already been an official selection at the Garden State Film Festival, the Palm Beach Film Festival, the San Luis Obispo Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival (where it won the Humanitarian Vision Award), and its buzz is building — particularly at a time when healthcare reform is foremost on the minds of many.
This marks the film’s hometown bow, and Merola will attend selected screenings at the a/perture cinema. It will be followed by its Los Angeles and New York premieres the week after.
Having toiled successfully toiled in the advertising world in New York City, with commercial clients that included Volkswagen, Campbell’s Soup and the Speed Channel, Merola always had a strong interest in filmmaking. Then, as so often happens, inspiration struck.
For some years, he’d followed with interest the story of cancer specialist Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, the founder of the Burzynski Clinic in Houston, Texas and the developer of the gene-targeted cancer medicines known as antineoplastons. Dr. Burzynski’s treatments, which had yielded surprisingly positive results in patients — some of whom had been diagnosed as terminal — became a cause of controversy in the 1990s, when the Texas Medical Board, and later the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) took unprecedented steps to discredit Dr. Burzynski’s research.
Merola first contacted Dr. Burzynski in mid-2008 and soon gained his trust. As a result, Merola was given full access to Dr. Burzynski’s records — both medical and legal. He met with Dr. Burzynski’s patients, some of whom testified on his behalf during his repeated legal run-ins with the FDA.
“I just became obsessed with the story,” said Merola in an exclusive interview with YES! Weekly, “and the more time I spent with Burzynski, his patients and his story, the more obsessed and excited I became.”
Since he owned his own film equipment, Merola didn’t need to hire a crew. He simply shot the film himself and utilized broadcast footage from Dr. Burzynski’s trials. Although this was only his first feature film, Merola is pleased with the result, more pleased with the outcome of Dr. Burzynski’s case, which is depicted in the film, and especially gratified that his subject is satisfied with the film, as well.
“Dr. Burzynski couldn’t be more pleased,” Merola said. “At first, he thought the film was too complicated for the average person to absorb all that information, but it seems not to be the case. People are always telling me how easy it is to understand and follow.”
Even more encouraging, “I haven’t had a single audience member approach me after a screening and criticize or question the validity of the information in the film,” he said. “There is nothing in the film that is ‘assumed,’ ‘theoretical’ or not backed by the highest of documentation and forensic evidence.”
Burzynski’s treatment may well be perceived as a threat to what is euphemistically called the cancer industry, and could conceivably render such established (and not inexpensive) cancer treatments as chemotherapy and radiation obsolete. That Burzynski, and not a pharmaceutical company or conglomerate, would hold the exclusive patent and distribution rights for the Antineoplastons treatment, is likely what put him in the bureaucratic crosshairs from the beginning. Over the years and over multiple trials, the FDA spent some $60 million attempting to indict him.
“It threatens a $90 billion-a-year industry [in the US alone],” noted Merola. “That, and only that, is the reason it is being held back. The only way his drug will ever be approved is if the American people stand up and demand it. This film hopefully can serve as a springboard for that. I am not stopping with this effort after the film. Given that 50 percent of the male population of Americans are destined to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, I think I have a vested interest beyond just being a filmmaker.”
Without a doubt, Merola wants this film to make waves and rattle some cages. He wants “to get his medicine approved for public use, and any and everything surrounding that,”
Merola said. “I hope the film can be used as a tool to help Congress, the White House and, most importantly, the general public understand that a cure for cancer based on the highest cutting-edge scientific technology is here.”
Thus far, Merola has not received any reaction from the opposition about the film. If someone at the FDA has seen the film, he doesn’t know about it.
“I have trouble seeing what, if anything, the FDA can possibly say about the film to discredit it,” observed Merola. “The only thing perhaps they can do is discredit me — which is usually what happens to directors like me. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I am prepared for anything.”
It’s the perfect opportunity for the area’s movie mavens to experience the early works of what could well be Hollywood’s next generation of filmmakers.
At press time, the third-year line-up of short films includes “All That You Love Will be Carried Away,” “Old Songs,” “Digby,” “Bloodline,” “The Monocle,” “Switch,” “Forest of Darkness,” “The Quiet” and “Zoso.”
The fourth-year line-up includes “Disappearing Act,” “The Gatherers,” “The Road Home,” “Prometheus,” “Inheritance,” “Champagne,” “Gravity,” “Genesis” and “Pink Triangle.”
Student films are not rated and may contain adult themes and language; parental discretion is advised. In addition, each program is subject to change without notice.
The third-year films will be screened this Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Main Theatre and 8 p.m. in Babcock Theatre. The fourth-year films will be screened this Friday at 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the Main Theatre and 8 p.m. in Babcock Theatre. Tickets are $5.
For advance tickets or more information, call 336.721.1945 or see www.uncsa.edu/ performances