Chicago’s Sarofsky Pictures new documentary series, A Mystery to Me, aims to raise awareness of the rare neuromuscular disease Myasthenia Gravis (MG). The first episode is scheduled to premiere at the 2020 Chicago International Film Festival.
Produced by Chicago’s Sarofsky Pictures and Director Ben Strang (“BEAST”), in association with Kartemquin Films (“Minding the Gap”) and Museum + Crane (“Feels Good Man”), the series features three stories of individuals with a rare, chronic autoimmune disease that causes debilitating and potentially life-threatening muscle weakness in individuals of all ages, many of whom are unaware of the disease and unable to be accurately diagnosed or get help.
A Mystery to Me is intended to both reflect the lives of those who suffer from MG (and their loved ones) and speak to anyone struggling with an unchosen, life altering circumstance.
While Sarofsky is well known in the commercial and entertainment fields for its colorful contributions to high-profile ad campaigns and title sequences for TV series and numerous Marvel Studios blockbusters, this new initiative is the company’s first documentary project produced entirely in-house. In the hands of SXSW Grand Jury Prize-winning filmmaker Ben Strang, the incredibly moving stories of three brave individuals diagnosed with MG are rendered powerfully and thoughtfully, often using their own words to help viewers understand the challenges they face, and ultimately, embrace hope.
At the upcoming 56th Chicago International Film Festival, running Oct. 14-25, the series’ first installment (focusing on Vanetta Drummer-Fenton, a vibrant woman who is a personal trainer) will screen in the Documentary Short Film Competition. For A Mystery to Me showtimes and tickets, please visit the Chicago Film Festival.
“I’m thrilled that the Chicago International Film Festival has recognized our work by accepting it into the 2020 Short Documentary FIlm Competition, and I am honored to be having our world premiere there,” said Sarofsky’s Principal and Executive Creative Director, Erin Sarofsky. “Over the past 11 years, we have built a legacy in Chicago by running a business here, and being a fierce advocate for local production. This acknowledgement is a prized career moment for me and everyone at Sarofsky. Not only is it an acknowledgement of the fine work we have created, it feels like a warm hug from the city we love.”
Production-wise, Strang and the Sarofsky team were thrown a curve-ball by COVID-19. National travel and filming restrictions were issued on the eve of production, jeopardizing the entire project. Through ingenuity, the filmmakers hit on the idea of providing their subjects with cameras and sound recorders they could use themselves.
Right away, each subject was sent a Sony Alpha A6600 Mirrorless Digital Camera as part of their kit. Strang then spoke with the series’ subjects regularly, discussing what was happening in their lives and conceptualizing shots. With Strang’s direction and each subject’s hands-on assistance, Director of Photography David Bolen was able to operate the cameras remotely.
“What surprised us the most is how excited our incredible subjects were to participate in the production in such a tactile way,” Strang explained. “No documentary is possible without great subjects, and this production is a testament to the immense enthusiasm and persistence of Vanetta Drummer-Fenton, Teresa Hill Putnam and Glenn Phillips. They were as much a part of the film crew as they were subjects, and we’re so proud of the subtle moments we all collectively captured together.”
The entire A Mystery to Me series is slated for its virtual premiere on Nov. 17, 2020, at MG-United.com, a digital lifestyle resource for people with MG.