Director Premiers Tuberculosis Film

Two tuberculosis survivors watched their stories told on film for the first time yesterday evening in Harvard Hall at a test screening of a documentary about the 20th-century tuberculosis epidemic.

“There were a couple of places I couldn’t see through the tears,” said Barbara Parkos, who watched herself on screen in “On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place.”

Parkos said the film brought back memories of living in a sanitarium, where she was forced to sleep outside in an attempt to combat the disease. Watching scenes of beds lined up on outdoor porches “brought it back so vividly I felt cold.”

The hour-long documentary, which focuses on the epidemic in twentieth century and the state of tuberculosis in the modern world, played to an audience of the about 50 people.

Both the director, David Bettencourt, and the writer, G. Wayne Miller ’76, were present to answer questions after the screening.

Miller said that when he began working on a film about tuberculous, he “knew what any basic person would know—it’s a bad disease.” But after talking with survivors and researching the state of the disease today, “My eyes were truly opened.”

Even the survivors depicted in the film said that they learned more about the disease. The documentary “educated me about an illness I had,” Parkos said.

Gale Perkins, another tuberculosis survivor featured in the film, spent 12 years in a hospital, from the age of three to 15.

She said she hopes this film will help people better understand why she had to stay in the hospital for so long.

Harvard’s Undergraduate Global Health Forum sponsored the screening as part of Global Health Awareness Week.

“Tuberculosis has been one of the major killers around the world,” said Vincent Cheng ’11, who helped organize the event. He added that people often lose sight of tuberculous and other infectious diseases in the developing world. After AIDS, tuberculosis is the second most prevalent infectious disease in the world, according to the documentary.

After the screening, the audience was given a questionnaire to identify possible improvements that could be made to the film before its official premiere in February. The documentary is also scheduled to air on PBS on March 23, the eve of national world tuberculosis day, according to a press release.

Miller said he wasn’t nervous to hear audience reactions after the screening.

“The goal is to get a better film,” he said.