In the June 2016 Chalcedon Report, we reported on the genesis of a film project concerning the remarkable story of Christian physician Dr. Punyamurtula S. Kishore. The film represents a collaboration between filmmaker Joaquin Fernandez and the Chalcedon Foundation. Joaquin had previously worked closely with Colin Gunn in creating the award-winning film, IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America, and is currently president of Great Commission Films (greatcommissionfilms.com). The complexities of pulling off such a project were discussed in the earlier article, and the existence of this project was alluded to in the just-published July–August 2016 issue of Faith for All of Life magazine.
What that article saw in prospect, we’re able to describe in hindsight now that principal photography has been completed on the project. The road to a compelling film is a difficult one requiring all participants to count the cost before taking up the plow. By God’s grace, and despite the whirlwind schedule squeezed into a weekend late in June replete with sudden change-ups, Joaquin was able to capture all the footage he was looking to get in the can with a little bit of time to spare. (The term “in the can” means something very different with digital videography, of course!)
Countdown to Action
They say if you want something done, give the job to a busy person. There’s wisdom in this maxim, to be sure, but also diminishing returns if the person is overly busy. This was the issue I faced in setting aside time from my tent-making day job as a software engineer to pull this project together.
There are two extremes in filmmaking: a zero-planning scenario where we just turn the cameras on and see what develops, or a micromanaged shoot with every single moment planned out in advance. Joaquin and I were looking for something in the middle, but that presupposed some level of planning … or at the very least, possession of a template or framework to work with.
For this reason, a separate planning day for Dr. Kishore and I was set aside on Thursday, June 23rd, in advance of the two days set aside for filming (June 24–25, 2016). The extra day for preparation would permit us to be more refreshed in front of the cameras (in theory). At least we wouldn’t both be fresh off of airplanes this way. So we both flew in to Durham, North Carolina, late Wednesday night, June 22, collected our rental car, and got to our hotel rooms after midnight.
Our having arrived a day early permitted Joaquin to join Dr. Kishore and me for lunch on Thursday to begin discussing strategy for capturing the crucial truths of this story on film. Much of these discussions involved filling in details that could not be captured in the dozen-odd articles that had appeared in Faith for All of Life at that time. It was decided to meet again Thursday evening at the hotel to continue the discussion, which provided Joaquin with additional background material and an acquaintance with how Dr. Kishore approached questions posed to him.
The original plan was for me to provide a map to Joaquin so that he could move the interview from point to point during filming, so that nothing of importance would be missed or omitted. As it turned out, I was unable to prepare such a formal outline for Joaquin in a timely way. Joaquin turned the lemons into lemonade when he decided to have me lead Dr. Kishore through the filming process.
This was unorthodox from one point of view, but made sense from another, as I would know whether or not Dr. Kishore had hit the key points he needed to get across better than anyone else in the studio. So we changed our filming strategy: I would pose the off-camera questions to Dr. Kishore, and when the time came for me to be interviewed, Joaquin would then take the reins and walk me through the questions he wanted to pin down with me about this story.
Even this strategy required visiting the nearest FedEx Office to print out the materials I needed to walk Dr. Kishore through hours of intense deposition-style interrogation. Add to this the need to stay up half the night to prepare the topical map for Friday’s filming, and I was starting to appreciate how the schedule had taken a new direction, with a new principal, thanks to the participation of a former member of Dr. Kishore’s team.
The Human Face of the Kishore Drama
Kerri Hume was the former manager of the Dr. Kishore’s PMAI (Preventive Medicine Associates) clinic in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Her firsthand eyewitness experience working at the clinic and seeing the power of the sobriety-based Massachusetts Model made her participation in this film project invaluable. Not only could she directly report on the positive effect Dr. Kishore’s clinic had on real men and women, but she was also in a position to report on the effect of the state’s actions that destroyed the clinics.
God being in the sovereignty business, He decided to rewrite our filming schedule as a result of the earlier-than-planned arrival of Kerri and husband Michael to the Marshall Multimedia studio in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Rather than having her filming take place on Saturday, she was moved to Friday afternoon, which split Dr. Kishore’s camera time between Friday morning and Saturday morning. This would make me the last person to be filmed during the final three hours of the Saturday session. This also allowed me an extra night to complete the interview framework for Dr. Kishore on Friday night. It was a grueling schedule, but at least there was a significant break in it that gave room for Kerri Hume’s video testimony.
Other than when describing the persecutions inflicted upon him (his arrests, his jailing, etc.), Dr. Kishore sounded very much like the compassionate but technically oriented physician that he is. My on-camera persona isn’t much different: it’s pretty much what you’d expect of a theologian or journalist.
But the impact that Kerri Hume had on the film was palpably different. She agreed to drive in to Wake Forest all the way from South Carolina because she believed deeply enough in Dr. Kishore’s work to make the effort to do so, setting aside convenience out of a sense of conviction. She brought an incisive moral component to the film project because she had developed personal relationships with the patients. Her ability to bring this aspect of the story to the foreground became a strong element in the film. As Dr. Kishore had intimated when he had first floated the idea of bringing Kerri Hume into the project several weeks earlier, “she can bring a human face to the project.”
She did precisely that.
The Next Steps
In evaluating the caliber of the raw footage that had been recorded over the course of the June filming, Joaquin Fernandez saw the potential value in acquiring additional corroborating footage on location in Massachusetts and potentially elsewhere. A list of possible participants was developed that could materially add to the core material already secured. The list includes attorneys, other doctors and addiction specialists, pastors, and former patients. If the logistical challenges can be solved, this stage could move forward, adding ancillary value to the final document.
There is a delicate balancing act in writing up a story like this. It is a good thing to share projects of interest to Chalcedon’s readership. But it is generally not a good thing to publish spoilers relative to a film still in development. Joaquin has a keen sense of how he wants to approach the capitalizing and marketing of the film so as to maximize its impact. And while we certainly aren’t in the dreaded, so-called “development hell” that often swallows up erstwhile film projects, neither are we fully in “development heaven” quite yet.
But God has graciously put the biggest building blocks of the film together in a way that augurs well for the project’s future. To that end, pray with us that it becomes an irresistible tool in pushing forward the Christian reconstruction of the relationship of medicine to the state.