DOCSumentary Premiere Held at Hollywood-Style Screening at Cosford Cinema
It was the perfect Hollywood ending for a movie that was more than 40 years in the making at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The premiere of DOCSumentary, a series of short films highlighting the work and challenges faced by the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS), took place at the Bill Cosford Cinema on November 20, replete with velvet ropes, an orange-carpet reception and even flowing bubbly.
Miller School students, faculty, patients and luminaries filled the reception area in front of the cinema in anticipation of the first screening of three of nine episodes that will make up the DOCSumentary series. Before the night was over, they would applaud the films, hear from student producers and get insight from the patients who star in the documentaries.
Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth, explained that the films focus on prevalent diseases and cultural influences that surround healthcare in many of the region’s underserved communities. Just as importantly, the documentary illustrates the need to provide that care in a patient’s own community and how DOCS, which has been in operation since 1971, helps do that through its annual health fairs.
The finished product was a top-notch film production – with an opening and closing cameo by acclaimed author Maya Angelou – that will be equally valuable as an educational tool for existing medical students and patients and as a recruitment video for future students. The DOCS team also hopes to inspire donors to support their work, following the example of Jeri Wolfson, Louis Wolfson III, Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr., Joe Natoli and Arthur Hertz, trustees of the Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Foundation, all of whom were present.
The premiere was also the ideal setting to recognize Mark T. O’Connell, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Educational Development and the faculty leader of the DOCS program. Dean Goldschmidt surprised O’Connell with a lifetime achievement award.
For his part, O’Connell was customarily deferential. “It’s not work, it’s an honor,” he said, regarding his involvement with the program. “DOCS is about students, not faculty. That’s why the students who graduate from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine are really special. The community service they do puts a stamp on them for the future.”
Ali Habashi, director of DOCSumentary and the Arnold Center for Confluent Media Studies at UM, singled out the work O’Connell has done for the University and the community. “He is the real hero. (DOCS) is a student volunteer organization, but none of this would have existed, been maintained or carried out to the level it has without him.”
Habashi attended the premiere, but chose to stay out of the limelight as much as possible. “When you work on a project with so much value, your real reward happens when you are doing it,” he explained. “To see some of the patients open up and be so truthful and real… it doesn’t get any better than that for a filmmaker.”
The film screening celebrated a project that took more than two years to complete and started with a relatively simple idea from Miller School alumna, Jennifer Murdock, M.D., who was in charge of public relations for DOCS at the time. “We wanted to do something big to show what DOCS is doing,” said Murdock. A casual conversation about using documentary-style filmmaking to promote the medical school immediately piqued the interest of Dean Goldschmidt, who encouraged Murdock to pursue the idea. Since then, she and DOCS have recruited an army of volunteers to make the dream of documenting the program’s work on film a reality.
“To see the smallest idea I had with Dean Goldschmidt three years ago turn into something brilliant is unreal,” said Murdock, who graduated earlier this year and is now an intern at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She praised the care and work put into the series by students and volunteers and said it was indicative of the work done for the community by DOCS. “Every piece is diverse,” Murdock said proudly.
The premiere featured the first three “episodes” of the film series: “Health Disparities in Little Haiti,” “The Florida Keys, Sun and Cancer” and “The Florida Keys, Substance Abuse and Mental Health.”
Production is under way for the next three films, with an additional three planned to complete the series soon. The nine episodes will highlight the health fairs held by DOCS stretching from Broward County to the Florida Keys.
“Captain Eddie” Webb was one of the stars of “The Florida Keys, Sun and Cancer” episode and was on hand at the premiere to see his story on the silver screen. In full captain’s dress (Captain Eddie is a member of the Conch Republic Navy – Conch Horn Corps), he talked about his experience with DOCS, starting at a health fair in the Keys two years ago.
“I went through almost all of the health screening stations, and when I got to the second to last station – dermatology – they discovered my skin cancer,” Captain Eddie recounted. The last station he went through checked his vitals, which also showed his blood pressure was dangerously high.
Captain Eddie was scheduled for follow-up care, and surgery to remove his skin cancer lesion was filmed for the episode. His treatment for high blood pressure continues to this day, with Captain Eddie saying that he has changed his diet and improved his health habits thanks to DOCS and its health fairs.
“I want to thank DOCS for taking care of me when I had my cancer. You have to listen to your angels and try to help people when you can. It comes back to you,” Captain Eddie told the audience from the stage after the screening. Before departing he gave the audience a long salute with his conch horn.
DOCS Executive Director and medical student Rimsky Denis knows the healthcare challenges facing poor populations firsthand, having been born at Jackson Memorial Hospital and being part of the Haitian community, which is underserved by the area’s healthcare options. Denis was featured in the “Health Disparities in Little Haiti” episode and believes the film brings into focus the needs of the community and the work DOCS does. “It explains why we do what we do,” he said.
Other patients featured in the films were Gil Baldridge, Tami Messenger and Stephanie Remi-Piliguian.
Although UM President Donna E. Shalala wasn’t able to attend the premiere, she welcomed the audience in a video message and congratulated the producers of DOCSumentary.
“DOCS is there to make a difference, to ensure that all who seek care can in fact get proper medical attention,” she said. “DOCS is a shining example of one of the most important missions of this great University – community service.
“Through DOCS, students learn firsthand what I’m sure called most of them to the practice of medicine: to provide compassionate care to all who need their expertise.”
View photos of the premiere.