‘Ginger’ director completes film despite cancer diagnosis

Susan Gordon and Melissa Boratyn

Susan Gordon and Melissa Boratyn

Many parts of the
film are taken
from co-director
Melissa Boratyn’s
life or reflect
struggles facing
young adults
fighting cancer

Chicago-based filmmaker Melissa Boratyn and her husband Jimmy Boratyn co-directed a feature film, titled Ginger. The film was inspired by Melissa’s first fight with breast cancer that began in 2011.

After three years of remission and the completion of Ginger’s script in 2015, Melissa was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer on the second day of casting in 2016.

“We almost scrapped the entire project,” her husband remembers. “But really, Melissa was the one who wanted to keep moving forward, so we pushed through.”

Co-directors Melissa and Jimmy Boratyn
Co-directors Melissa and Jimmy Boratyn

Melissa Boratyn states, “When I first entered chemo, there was a little bit of adrenaline… Making this movie now would be much harder than it was in 2016, but I think a lot of it was just determination to get the project done and get it in front of people.”

The deeply personal film emphasizes the feminine and young-adult’s perspective.

According to the Boratyns, Ginger is “a 23-year-old woman’s pretty funny, slightly sad, powerfully emotional guide to breast cancer.”

Like co-director Melissa Boratyn, the film’s main character, Ginger Mathis (played by Susan Gordon), is a young woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer, loses her red hair, is forced to redefine what it means to be a woman, and undergoes a transformative experience.

Melissa Boratyn comments, “I was this kooky redheaded filmmaker, and I had to come to terms with who I was without it.”



Melissa Boratyn also emphasizes the conflict between breast cancer and feminine identity, “I’ve had a double mastectomy. I’ve had both breasts removed. I’ve had an oophorectomy so I had to have my ovaries removed.”

“I mean, you’re talking about the parts of a woman that are supposed to make up a woman, and so, you have to really discover yourself and who you are, and how you identify as a woman. What makes you a woman? It becomes all of these crazy different ideas that you have to think about,” she continues.

In some ways, many of the characters and moments in Ginger are fictionalized or dramatized at the very least. However, co-directors Jimmy and Melissa Boratyn emphasize that many of the experiences in the film are either directly taken from Melissa’s life or are universal for young adults fighting cancer.

Melissa explains, “I was forced to grow up really quickly. You start as person A, and at the end of this experience, you’re person B. And person A is just a shadow of who you used to be. You completely transform, and this is across the board whether it’s breast cancer, melanoma, colon cancer. It changes you.”

Despite the gravity of both Melissa and Ginger’s story, Jimmy and Melissa found ways to find humor in the narrative and their own lives.

Melissa says, “How serious cancer is completely contrasted with how naive and young I was. I think (that) is what made it funny, and then, we’re just kind of the type of people who look for humor and joy in weird odd places.”

The inception of the script came after Jimmy and Melissa went to a bar following Melissa’s first bout of chemotherapy in 2011. She ordered a much-deserved beer before remembering she could not drink it. The two realized there might be a story there.

Johnny Woj, Jeff Harder, Melissa Boratyn, and Jimmy Boratyn
Jackson Grischeau, Jeff Harder, Melissa Boratyn, and Jimmy Boratyn

Although that basic idea started at such an early date, both Melissa and Jimmy knew that 2011 was not the time or place to begin working on Ginger.

Instead, besides fighting cancer, Jimmy Boratyn states that the two “fine-tune(d) and hone(d) our craft” at their “video/photo production company called Shot Time Productions that does marketing, primarily.”

Before Ginger, they also made a feature film titled The Giggles — a mockumentary about the children’s entertainment industry.

As for Ginger, Jimmy Boratyn says, “In 2011, I don’t think we would have known even where to start, especially, not on a project of this scale.”

The couple cannot emphasize enough the role the greater Chicago community played in the making of Ginger. It was their MFA thesis project at DePaul University, and Loyola University allowed them to use their medical-training facilities as sets.

Furthermore, their producers (Johnny Woj, Ryan Grundtisch, and Melissa Sherwin) were immensely dedicated as not only filmmakers but as friends. Jimmy states, “There were 50-60 people involved in this project. When all is said and done, the community, they are the ones that made this happen.”



Like many filmmakers, the Boratyns and their team were fueled throughout production with the hope of helping others indirectly and directly. Thirty percent of the net profit of Ginger goes towards non-profits, such as the American Cancer Society.

From an artistic perspective, the Boratyns hoped Ginger would provide guidance and representation for women diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age. The film’s premiere on September 29th at the 10th Annual Lady Filmmakers Festival in Beverly Hills, California offered them their first sample of how Ginger would be received.

Melissa and Jimmy were shocked at the awards ceremony. When it was time to announce the Best of Fest award, Melissa didn’t even bother to pay attention to the result and was locked in conversation with their producer sitting next to her.

Jimmy Boratyn laughs, “I literally had to nudge her and be like, ‘Babe, they just announced Ginger, we got to go get the award.’”

He states, “That was the first time we ever screened it to a group of people that don’t know Melissa. We didn’t know how it would impact people, but it really really resonates, which has been just incredible for us.”

Ginger went on to have its Chicago premiere on October 21, 2018 in a sold-out Logan Theater. Thirty percent of the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society.

The film’s success at the Logan Theater prompted the filmmakers to host another fundraising event at Evanston’s Century 12 Cinemark Theater on November 17.

With a budget of only $12,000, and considering that Melissa Boratyn went on to complete the project as co-director and sole editor, Ginger is clearly an extraordinary filmmaking achievement worthy of the highest accolades.

The team at Reel Chicago would like to wish the Boratyn family and all of those who supported Ginger the best of luck during this exciting festival and fundraising run.

For more information on Ginger, click here.

Tickets for the 5 pm screening on Saturday, November 17 can be purchased here.

Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.