This week (Oct. 10-11), the Mill Valley Film Festival will host the world premier of his latest documentary, "Capturing Grace," which follows a group of Parkinson's patients in Brooklyn who are part of a dance therapy program offered by the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Mr. Iverson had done a short piece about the program for the PBS NewsHour, and then decided that the story would be worth a documentary. He says he was so impressed with how the program was offered, and the remarkable way that Parkinson's patients responded that, in spite of being underfunded, the film had to be made. "It really was a labor of love," he says, as well as an opportunity to bring awareness to the disease and to the work of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
"Capturing Grace" documents a year in the life of the Brooklyn program participants as they prepare for a public performance. Former dancers from the Mark Morris Group led the students, all of whom had different levels of the disease, through both structured and improvisational dance segments.
Several patients were chosen for in-depth interviews, and they shared their life stories and their struggles. Mr. Iverson says he chose people who were "wonderful characters" with compelling stories. And rather than taking his familiar role as interviewer, Mr. Iverson decided to just let the subjects speak for themselves. "I wanted this to be true to their story," he explains.
The stories are poignant, moving and inspirational. There is Charlie, who spent his life in physical education. Photographs of him as a strong athlete, participating in every imaginable sport serve as a dramatic contrast to the Charlie of today, stricken with Parkinson's disease. But we see that his spirit is undaunted and that dance has become his way of fighting the disease.
Then there is Cindy, who shows the most obvious symptoms of the disease, with tremors that can be kept in check for short periods with medication. In her on-camera interviews, her body moves constantly and uncontrollably. But when the music starts and she begins to dance, there is an amazing transformation. She moves with grace and rhythm, and the joy on her face is undeniable.
"When the group meets," she says, "we are not patients, we are dancers."
It is obvious that a great sense of community was created in the class and that the students supported and encouraged one another. Given the wide range of symptoms that present with Parkinson's disease, the dances were choreographed so that all members of the group could participate.
The culmination of their year-long rehearsals and hard work will bring a tear to the viewer's eye — both because of the beauty of the dance pieces and the joy expressed by the dancers.
Mr. Iverson says that one of his motivations in making the film was that "there is something universal in the story. We all face challenges but the question is, once a diagnosis such as Parkinson's has been given, what do I do now?"
In his own life, Mr. Iverson has dealt with the disease by taking up rigorous exercise. He has run in three New York marathons and plans to run again next month, raising money through donations for the Fox Foundation.
He is passionate about advancing the cause of Parkinson's disease research, and says that there are promising new drugs being developed that can alleviate symptoms, as well as new surgical procedures, such as "deep brain stimulation." The ultimate goal, he explains, is to find ways to slow or halt the progression of the disease.
Mr. Iverson grew up in Menlo Park, attending local schools and Stanford University. He spent the bulk of his career in the Midwest after earning a graduate degree in telecommunications from Indiana University.
He went on to have a successful career as a producer, writer and correspondent for public broadcasting, earning prestigious awards (an Emmy and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award) along the way.
In 2004 he returned to the Bay Area and began hosting Friday Forum for KQED, a position he recently left. Getting "Capturing Grace" into the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival was not easy, Mr. Iverson says, because the competition is intense. The film will also be presented on public television next April, as part of Parkinson's Disease Awareness Month.
Some of the dancers and instructors will be on hand next week for the premier of the film, and Mr. Iverson will be there as well. "This film has meant more to me than anything I have ever done before."
Go to mvff.com for more information about the Mill Valley Film Festival and the schedule of films being screened.
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