INHERITANCE is a documentary about hereditary breast cancer and its impact on three women as they undergo life-altering medical procedures in the hope of reducing their genetic risk – and saving their own lives.
Thousands of women each year learn that they have a genetic predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer. The response of three women to this information is the subject of INHERITANCE, an unprecedented documentary about hereditary cancer, genetic mutations, and the life-altering measures devised to prevent the onset of disease in high-risk families.
Filmed over the course of a year, INHERITANCE chronicles the medical and emotional journeys of three women from diverse backgrounds as they make crucial decisions that they hope will spare them from cancers that claimed their mothers and grandmothers.
The project had its genesis seven years ago when the wife of director Jonathan Silvers tested positive for the Breast Cancer 1 mutation, known as BRCA. Given her family's extensive history of cancer, Jon’s wife underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy and bilateral oophorectomy (i.e., ovary removal) in 2016. The pain she endured was temporary. The permanent reduction in her lifetime cancer risk motivated Jon to probe the issue in a documentary.
Jon had initially premised the film on the rapidly expanding science of genetics in cancer prevention. But shortly after production began, Jon was introduced to Dr. Jonathan Herman, a Long Island-based OB-GYN and a decades-long advocate of BRCA awareness and genetic testing. Their meeting quickly led Jonathan to assume two prominent roles in the film, the first as a producer, the second as an on-camera medical advisor. Together Jon and Jonathan recognized that the film’s narrative power resided in its presentation of women making use of genetic science at a crucial time in their lives.
One year into production, Jon was introduced to Alejandra Campoverdi, a Los Angeles-based women’s health advocate. When they met, Alejandra was contemplating her own medical and surgical options to thwart the BRCA2 mutation that she carried --- the same mutation which plagued generations of women in her family. Alejandra’s personal journey meshed with her public efforts to promote breast cancer awareness and to extend health care to women of color across the country. With her surgical journey approaching, Alejandra joined the film as producer and collaborator. Her physical and emotional journeys -- from BRCA diagnosis to post-surgery -- would be the documentary’s foundational narrative.
In the course of production, the filmmakers were granted access to the equally unique journeys of several other notable women, including:
Lilith Costa, a mother of two in Rockaway Beach, NY. Breast cancer has run so rampant in her family that even her uncle has battled the disease. After testing positive for a genetic mutation, Lilith decided to undergo a grueling twelve-hour surgery to reduce her risk, removing both her breasts, her fallopian tubes, and her ovaries.
Bonnie Feuerman, whose mother died in her early forties of breast cancer that had metastasized. Bonnie’s sister tested positive for BRCA a decade ago, but Bonnie refuses to take a genetic test, choosing to rely solely on intensive monitoring during her annual gynecological exam. Her father and sister worry that Bonnie’s refusal to know her BRCA status might prove disastrous.
When confronted with hereditary cancer, all the women in the documentary assessed their risk and made a decision that was right for them. While their outcomes varied, all regarded the process as transformative.
In addition to these intimate portraits, the documentary pays particular attention to health disparities and the disproportionate impact of hereditary cancer on women of color and women in low-income communities. It also examines the future of genetics and cancer -- a future that may see vaccines and gene alterations that disable BRCA mutations as well as other genetic-based cancers and diseases.
INHERITANCE is a life-affirming exploration of the things we inherit, and the costs we bear to ensure that some inheritances end with us.