Director Patty Jenkins connected naturally to her new short film, Pearl, one of five intertwined vignettes in the Lifetime Original Movies anthology, Five. The film quintet premieres Oct. 10 as part of Lifetime TV's "Stop Breast Cancer for Life" initiative (www.mylifetime.com/my-lifetime-commitment/breast-cancer).
"No matter who you are, no amount of information ensures prevention," Jenkins says. "It's almost hard to find somebody who hasn't had a family member or friend with breast cancer."
In April 2002, when the doctor told us my wife, Chris, had breast cancer, the first two words out of my mouth were "Oh" and a four-letter word. I felt shock and disbelief -- that this kind of thing happens to other people, not to us. I had no idea how I would handle this -- do all the caregiving, plus make a living. Right away, my attitude was, "It's her job to get better, and it's my job to do everything else." But it still seemed impossible.
As it turned out, Chris had stage 3 breast cancer and...
Jenkins, 40, has had both. Her grandmother, Patsy Roth, now in her 80s, was initially diagnosed at age 42 and underwent a double mastectomy. (Today, Roth's cancer is slow-growing and she is otherwise healthy.) And in mid-June, Jenkins' close friend, trailblazing film producer and Stand Up To Cancer co-founder Laura Ziskin, died from breast cancer at age 61. Five allowed Jenkins to positively channel emotions about losing Ziskin, she says.
Lifetime's "Five" Project
Jenkins joins the project’s other directors (and Hollywood A-listers), Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Demi Moore, and Penelope Spheeris, who each made a film based on a story arc developed by Marta Kauffman, co-creator of the hit TV sitcom Friends, which co-starred Aniston. Jenkins is best known for her 2003 independent crime drama, Monster, which led to an Oscar for best actress for its star, Charlize Theron.
Collectively, Five explores breast cancer’s effects on relationships and women’s perceptions of the disease, which is the second most common cancer among U.S. women after skin cancer. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, some 200,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, and 40,000 women die of the disease every year.
Each 20-minute film follows its title character -- Charlotte, Cheyanne, Lili, Mia, and Pearl -- from diagnosis through various stages of treatment and coping. Pearl, played by actor Jeanne Tripplehorn, is the chronological link: She loses her mother to breast cancer in the first film, then grows up to become an oncologist who treats the other four lead characters, then faces breast cancer herself.
Five's rich cast also includes Rosario Dawson, Bob Newhart, and real survivors. Jenkins wants the film to inspire through its characters, to entertain without forcing the educational component. "It was so intriguing to look at breast cancer like this, with humor and drama, not in a heavy-handed way yet encompassing the full spectrum of emotions with different points of view."