After ‘Caregiver: A Love Story’ wrapped in March 2020, Dr. Jessica Zitter — who co-directed the short with Kevin Gordon — the world “shut down” and the duo feared the work would never see the light of day.
In March 2020, a documentary short I co-directed with filmmaker Kevin Gordon, Caregiver: A Love Story, wrapped. But all of our plans — film festivals, theatrical openings, an impact campaign — evaporated as the film world, and the world in general, suddenly shut down. As despondent as I was that our movie might never see the light of day, I had more urgent things to worry about. Aside from being a filmmaker, I am a physician, and needed to turn my attention to caring for COVID-19 patients at the public hospital in Oakland.
Like other hospitals around the world, visitors were banned and patients died alone and in fear. It was devastating to watch. Necessity being the mother of invention, we created a virtual space in which patients and their families could be together. Within a week, we brought dozens of iPads into the wards. Within days, they were in constant use. Family members from Indiana to India “visited” their loved ones. I was able to beam into places that required help, such as the dangerously understaffed hospitals in New York City where I volunteered last spring. There were opportunities in the ether.
Just as I was acclimating to practicing virtual medicine, I noticed that the film world was also opening up virtual spaces. It felt, at first, second rate. No red carpets or champagne. But there was no choice. Our film, which won best documentary short at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, carries a message for this moment. The film explores the growing crisis of caregiver burden, where more than one of five Americans provide care to a loved one without training, support or financial assistance. And the pandemic of 2020 has made it so much worse.
Our pre-pandemic plans for creating impact centered on in-person screenings, which evaporated in March like the visitors in my hospital. So we pivoted to online programming, and just as we found in the hospital, there were unexpected benefits we couldn’t have imagined. Family caregivers, who are usually so busy they can barely leave the house, were suddenly watching our film. Other audiences, like health care professionals, industry leaders and legislators, also became more receptive to having educational content delivered via video versus in person. Instead of visiting one institution at a time, I could now reach all of them at once. The film was facilitating collaboration between thought partners from Indiana to India. Where once I thought COVID would make my work as a doctor and filmmaker impossible, I now see it has forced us to create solutions that will ultimately allow us to reach more patients, caregivers and audiences alike.
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.