With a background in reality TV--including directing and producing America’s Deadliest Season: Alaskan Crab Fishing, which launched the long running Deadliest Catch franchise--Alan M. Blassberg in recent years took on a project which was all too real, profoundly personal in nature. He directed, produced (with co-producers Daniel Lawrence Abrams and Marc Romeo, and EP Amy Byer Shainman) and co-wrote (with Sue Bailey) the feature documentary Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer, an emotional and informative journey that takes us through the lives of women--and men--who are dealing with genetic mutations (BRCA1 and 2) and their related hereditary cancers.
Blassberg’s grandmother, aunt and one of his sisters died of cancer. Another sister was diagnosed with the genetic mutation and turned to preventative surgery as a life-saving option. Additionally his fiancée is a cancer survivor who has again found herself battling the disease. And Blassberg himself got tested and discovered that he was a BRCA2 positive male, underscoring the fact that hereditary breast cancer is not just a women’s disease.
Pink & Blue gets the message out about the genetic mutations and how people can make informed decisions--one way or the other relative to prophylactic surgery--if they are found to have the BRCA1 or 2 gene. The documentary had limited theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles last month to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Week. Blassberg was at the recently concluded American Film Market in Santa Monica, Calif., reporting that he is close to finalizing a distribution deal for the documentary, Additionally, he is getting some feelers from the film festival circuit and expects Pink & Blue to gain exposure on that front. Pink & Blue also made the list of some 120 feature documentaries eligible for Oscar consideration.
Blassberg was ahead of the curve with Pink & Blue. He had already embarked on the documentary when Angelina Jolie Pitt put BRCA and prophylactic surgeries in the public limelight with her initial op-ed piece in The New York Times back in 2013. Jolie Pitt revealed that she has a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which translated into her having an estimated 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of ovarian cancer. In that op-ed column, Jolie Pitt--whose mother died of cancer at the age of 56, after a 10-year battle--wrote of her proactive decision to have a preventative double mastectomy.
The revelation about Jolie Pitt only spurred on Blassberg on to bring his documentary to fruition--and to reach as wide an audience as possible. He connected with Dr. Kristi Funk, Angelina Jolie’s surgeon and co-founder of Pink Lotus Breast Center, who appears in Pink & Blue, along with such hereditary cancer specialists as Dr. Armando Giuliano and Dr. Susan Domchek. Blassberg balances the scientific with the emotional struggles of life and death in his film. He introduces us to his family and loved ones along with cancer survivors and those who ultimately know they will not survive but appear on camera in the hope that their stories will help save the lives of others.
SHOOT: Cancer has profoundly impacted you and your family. How and when did you decide to do this documentary to share your story and empower yourself and others dealing with cancer?
Blassberg: It occurred to me that my sister passed away because we didn’t have information--the information that my other sister later had which saved her life, that had her get tested for the gene and then ultimately leading to her decision to have preventative surgery. Her surgical oncologist said that men could carry the genetic mutation. I had no idea men could get breast cancer so I got tested. It’s still unbelievable for me to now know that a higher percentage of men die from breast cancer than women. It’s because men are simply unaware and don’t undergo testing. As a result male breast cancer is often found at a later stage.
I felt that if I did a documentary, it would all be worthwhile if just one other person or family got the information they needed to prevent getting cancer or to survive cancer.
SHOOT: The documentary also shows what a man with breast cancer goes through when he gets what’s generally regarded as a woman’s disease.
Blassberg: When my girlfriend, a two-time cancer survivor, had to again fight cancer, I went with her to Dr. Giuliana at Cedars Sinai. I sort of piggybacked on her appointment since I knew the doctor. As I sat there, I found myself in a sea of pink. As a man with the breast cancer gene, I was being asked questions about vaginal dryness and how many children I gave birth to. I realized a lot had to be done to raise awareness about the gene mutations and the risk for men.
SHOOT: Kickstarter was key in terms of you getting funding to make Pink & Blue possible. How much did you raise?
Blassberg: We raised $75,000 in about a month. I’ve always been a big universal energy person, believing if you put something out in the universe and work hard, it will happen. So much about the film has been serendipitous, connecting us with people online, people sharing their expertise and stories. I connected with Amy Byer Shainman whose family was devastated by cancer--and who carries the mutation. She asked me, “What will it take to be executive producer of your documentary?” Just like that, she grew into that role. I didn’t meet her for a year and a half but she was helping us all that time financially and with her experiences and knowledge.
SHOOT: How did Angelina Jolie Pitt’s op-ed piece impact your documentary.
Blassberg: We were shooting when she made the announcement. The biggest movie star in the world had this genetic mutation. People were talking about it. But still people were getting it wrong. The press wasn’t reporting accurately on exactly what BRCA 1 and 2 are. There was a lot of criticism of Angelina. People were talking more about her than the important message she had the courage to share publicly. The misinformation out there about her and her condition amped me up more to get this documentary out and to reach a big audience. Two years later, we finished our film right around the time she announced her other operation to remove her ovaries. We wound up interviewing both her surgeons for our documentary.
It all comes down to the fact that your quality of life changes when somebody dies in your family. You realize what’s really important--and what’s not. You want to make a positive impact in some way. I became part of a team that is trying to make a positive difference--this film is part of that effort.Category: Chat Room Interviews