In March, I was asked to participate on a panel entitled New Trends in Social Media during the Digital Media Forum portion of the Vancouver Women in Film Festival. My co-panelists were Nadia Aly and Nimisha Mukerji, both totally cool chicks, and we hit it off.
This post, however, is an interview with Nimisha, and the timing is poignant. March 27, 2011 marked the one-year anniversary of Eva’s passing. In case you are unfamiliar with Eva Markvoort’s story, she was a young woman from New Westminster, an artist, who had cystic fibrosis. She received a lung transplant in 2007, and the prognosis at first seemed good. But her body eventually rejected her new lungs, and with her name still on a transplant list, she succumbed to cystic fibrosis on March 27, 2010.
Throughout the entire process, Eva blogged. She started blogging to reach out to other people who were suffering with the same illness, and to stay in touch with her real-life friends outside of the hospital. But her writing attracted so much attention, and her story was so tragic and uplifting at the same time, that Eva became a kind of a modern folk-hero.
Nimisha made a documentary about Eva. I interviewed her about how the power of social media and Eva’s story helped to get them all the way to Oprah.
RC: How did 65_RedRoses come to be and how did you come to be involved in it?
NM: I often look back at this whole experience in amazement! To this day I’m not quite sure how everything fell into place so that we could make this film! I think Phil and I (we co-directed, produced and edited 65_RedRoses as a team) owe a lot to the film production program at UBC, which brought us together as creative partners. As film students we collaborated on a series of narratives shorts that did very well, and after graduation I began working in documentary and reality tv, while Phil landed an office position on a big Hollywood production. Within a few months we both realized that if we had any hopes of moving up in the industry and becoming filmmakers the fastest way to prove ourselves was to just take the plunge and make an independent feature film. We began brainstorming ideas, and Phil brought up a script he was stuck on that centered around his friendship with a girl named Eva. I didn’t know what Cystic Fibrosis was and had never met Eva before, so one afternoon he took me with him to the hospital. I remember thinking as we were leaving St. Paul’s that there was no need for a script, we could just put Eva in front of the camera! She was such a beautiful, strong person facing the most terrifying circumstances at the age of only 23. She immediately was on board with the documentary and really believed in us as directors. Because of the nature of her situation (her pager could go off at any second for transplant) we started filming right away.
RC: What role did social media play in the success of the film? (for example, do you think you would have gotten Oprah without the social media clout of the film?)
NM: Social media was important not only as a part of the 65_RedRoses story, but also in the film’s promotion. We always loved the role that Eva’s blog played in connecting her with the outside world, enabling her to form incredible friendships with young people that she had never met in person. I think that having that element really helped us get the project funding, because it wasn’t just about a girl with an illness, there was something very original and fresh about her situation. There was Eva’s story, but there were also her two closest friends online, who had become an important part of her support network. We thought about the marketing of the film even in the early stages, and that’s one of the main reasons we chose the title of the film to have the underscore in it (as opposed to 65 Red Roses). We wanted the computer element to be ingrained in everything, because the online world is something everyone can relate to.
The fact that Eva was blogging every day while she was in the hospital, and promoting the film indirectly through her postings
was an incredible asset, especially once we were done shooting. She was building up a steady stream of followers, many whom weren’t even a part of the CF community. When we approached CNN about writing an article, the angle they chose to cover was Eva’s willingness to share the details of her illness so candidly over the internet. We also had a strong website and a facebook group before our festival premiere at Hot Docs, and within a year we had over seven thousand friends on Facebook. Creating a viral buzz, and having a lot of online press (not just through reviewers but bloggers as well) elevated the film’s status and really enabled us to get the attention of American broadcasters. The social message, about organ donation, also really appealed to Oprah’s Network, so we had the full package.
RC: What is the message that you want people to take away from this film?
NM: It’s really important to all of us who worked on 65_RedRoses that when people watch the film they think of Eva’s story and decide to become organ donors. It’s such a simple thing to do, and the application can be completed online. We honor our commitment to Eva about making this film an important part of spreading awareness about organ donation and Cystic Fibrosis. CF is a genetic disease, and many people don’t know that they can test for it and see if they are a carrier. For children already born with CF, it’s important that we continue to raise funds for research so that a cure can be found. To support Eva’s legacy the best thing anyone can do is support the movement that she started by visiting: www.65redroses.com
National Organ Donation Week is April 20-27, and Eva is the face for organ donation in Canada! Look out for public service announcements on television that feature Eva’s story and encourage people to register as donors.
You can sign up to be an organ donor here.