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by Joanna Rudnick
First Run Features, 2008
Review by Christian Perring on Dec 2nd 2008

In the Family

The women in Joanna Rudnick's family have a history of breast and ovarian cancer.  She gets tested for "breast cancer genes" and finds she is positive, which means she has a very high chance of developing cancer.  The main preventative measure is to have her breasts and ovaries removed.  She does not have a husband she does not have children, and she is 31.  But she is dating a new man and they are getting serious in their relationship.  She decides to make a documentary about her experience.  She interviews experts, finds out about the latest breast implants, and films much of her home life with her boyfriend.  She also interviews many other women at risk for cancer, and women already with cancer, and their families.  We see one group of sisters who have all been tested for the genetic predisposition for cancer all find out the results at the same time.  Several women discuss the decision about whether to have their breasts and ovaries removed, and if so, when.  Rudnick herself has to make this decision, and she wants children.  This is moving documentary that does well at giving a sense of what it is like to live with these issues and how different people make their decisions.  It's not a systematic survey of the issues, but the documentary does contain a great deal of information and is also accompanied by resources on the POV website. Rudnick has also made an effort to find women of different ages and races to be in her film, which does make it more rounded. The fact that it is a very personal approach from someone who herself has a high risk for cancer makes the documentary especially powerful.  It is clear that her own story meant that her subjects were more able to related to her and open up in interview. The DVD has several features with extra scenes and a follow-up saying how many of the people we meet on the DVD are now.  This is a documentary that could be useful for anyone who wants to know about genetic testing, genetic counseling, and genetic ethics, and would work well in an undergraduate class on these topics.


© 2008 Christian Perring




Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.