Black Cat’s doc about a friend with a grim disease

Kim Lile, subject of “A Mind in Quicksand”

A documentary that came from the heart and began five years ago about a courageous woman in the local film business, who lives with an incurable disease, will have its Chicago premiere May 5-7 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, during Huntington’s Disease Awareness Month.

Produced by editor Sharon Zurek’s Black Cat Productions, “A Mind in Quicksand: Life with Huntington’s,” traces the experiences of photographer and script supervisor Kim Lile.  When Lile was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease (HD), an incurable degenerative disorder, she had to come to grips with the nature of her illness.

“The film,” says Zurek, “is a moving story of Kim’s personal journey, her bravery, passion and sometimes anguish in the midst of acceptance as she unravels the mysteries of the disease in her family history.”

“These passion projects live inside of you until they are done,” says Zurek of the film’s long journey.  Although Zurek and Lile had been classmates at Columbia College 30 years ago, they only reunited in 2007 at a party at a mutual friend’s home. 

Lile had begun to notice odd changes in herself around 1998 and in 2004 she learned she had HD. At the time she reconnected with Zurek she was in the throes of trying to deal with the disease, wherein a mutated gene in a person with HD creates too many proteins that damage and eventually kill nerve cells in the brain.

EP Jessie V. Ewing, director Kim Lile, director and producer/editor Sharon ZurekShortly thereafter, Lile contacted Zurek and, with Lile’s photojournalist friend Jessie Ewing, they started the doc, with the goal of helping create a public awareness of Huntington’s.

The doc got underway when it received fiscal sponsorship from Chicago Filmmakers that allows tax deductible donations to support production and community outreach expenses.

“We started shooting on an old Sony PD150 and then switched to a Panasonic HD P2 film-based format when we started to receive funding,” Zurek says. DP Chris Peppey signed on as head cinematographer, with Lile, Zurek, Ewing and two interns frequently shooting — to capture interviews of Lile family members, doctors, researchers, support groups and others. 

Story evolved over time

“During the first two years of editing, we were finding our story which, would continue to evolve in succeeding years.

“Our story started with Kim learning about the disease and where in her family it came from, and her gradual and deepening understanding of what was happening and what would happen next,” Zurek notes.  “By 2010 we knew we had a compelling story and the majority of our footage.”

Last summer, the producers started entering “Quicksand” in film festivals and picked up some awards while it was still in work-in-progress mode.  The 56-minute digital doc won Best Documentary Feature at the Illinois International Film Festival and an earlier cut won a Golden CINE Eagle.  The Siskel screening is the premiere of the final version.

In fact, notes Zurek, “I just finished the final tweak last week.”

Showtimes for “A Mind in Quicksand” are Saturday, May 5 at 7:45 p.m.; Sunday, May 6 at 5 p.m. and Monday, May 7 at 8:15 p.m. Kim Lile, Sharon Zurek and Jesse Ewing will be present for Q&A.