Production on season two of the hit Starz show Spartacus was halted in 2010 after lead actor Andy Whitfield was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He tried various forms of treatment and fought the disease for more than a year before passing away on September 11, 2011. But before his death, he documented his journey in Be Here Now (The Andy Whitfield Story), which won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June.
Whitfield’s wife, Vashti Whitfield, the Oscar-nominated director Lilibet Foster and producer Sam Maydew were on hand to answer questions about the film and the process of documenting something so painful.
“One of the significant things all through the filming,” said Vashti Whitfield, “was every time I spoke to Lil, she would always start our conversation with, ‘I just have to tell you what I’ve learned from you guys this week.'” Whitfield said she appreciated Foster’s perspective throughout the process. “She shot it and came back to it with a clarity and I think the same clarity that me and Andy tried to take on, that each day is a new day.”
When asked what it was like to have a camera “in her face” through such a painful ordeal, Whitfield said it was quite the opposite; the process was something she and her husband felt compelled to share.
“When Andy and I decided to shoot this film, Andy’s words were: ‘We didn’t learn what we were supposed to the first time. [Andy Whitfield was first diagnosed in March 2010, was declared cancer-free in June, but by September the cancer had returned.] And this is an opportunity to learn now. So if we’re going to go on this, then why not share our learning for anybody else.’ And not necessarily people going through hardship or a challenge, but people who live a life that seems so ho-hum, where there’s no gratitude. So let us share with you our unexpected journey in hope that it helps you live a life that has more meaning.”
The Los Angeles Film Festival was just the first stop for Be Here Now. According to Foster, the film will partner with the organization Stand Up To Cancer on a college tour. “We really want to provide a place for you to go with your feelings after you see this film.” Foster said she hopes the film will inspire people to share their stories with others facing this devastating diagnosis.
But Vashti Whitfield wanted to make clear that this wasn’t a film about death. “I just want all to remember this film is not about dying. It’s about living. And it’s not about just feeling something or thinking something. It’s about going out and doing something. So if you were somewhat moved by this movie, get off your bum and go do something about it.”
Jade Estrada / Film Independent Blogger