Sunday, April 17, 2016

Ask Me a Question: Be Here Now

On Friday night we ventured to the crowded Promenade area of Santa Monica. It's a happening spot but a little too much going on for me. Sugar Fish had a longer wait then we could afford to have so we checked out The Craftsman Bar, a chill dive joint with a excellent happy hour prices but $13 Jameson, yeesh! Up the street is art house chain Laemmle's Monica Film Center where we saw Morgan Spurlock a while back with his Comic-Con documentary. Tonight it was the roll out premiere of Be Here Now, the story of Spartacus leading man Andy Whitfield and his battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects cells called lymphocytes, part of your immune system. Whitfield broke onto the scene with Starz's violent and sexual 2010 series about the slave turned gladiator turned rebellion leader. By the end of season 1, Whitfield was experiencing extreme back pain and was diagnosed. Doctors told him it was the type of cancer you wanted to get as 80% of patients recover after chemotherapy. Whitfield received treatment, the cancer went into remission and he prepared for season 2 of Spartacus. A routine insurance physical showed that masses had formed and Whitfield focused on fighting the disease.

Directed by Lilibet Foster, Be Here Now chronicles Whitfield's surprising life, a structural engineer who was discovered in a coffee shop, became a well known model and commercial actor before making an impact with feature film Gabriel in 2007. Securing the role of Spartacus, Whitfield trained for the regular shirtless and fight scenes then shot in New Zealand for 9 months, essentially breaking into Hollywood "overnight" with representation, the lead role of a series and a multi-year deal. Life had a different journey in mind as we watch Whitfield along with supporting and spunky wife Vashti  endure hardship after hardship as Andy fights the disease. Not wanting to jump back into chemotherapy right away, Whitfield explores holistic treatment in Australia and India like acupuncture, cleansing and seeing an astrologist. Months pass and Whitfield goes back to chemotherapy and then radiology to mixed results. We watch the husband and wife, parents of two young children, in intimate close up as Andy has good days and bad days through months and then a year of harsh treatment. On September 11th of 2011, Whitfield passed away peacefully in a hospice.

Producer Sam Maydew, Whitfield's former manager, was on hand to discuss the film along with Spartacus co-star and Whitfield's off screen buddy Jai Courtney. It was an interesting night of emotions as audience tears were shed during the film and you could see how close Whitfield and the documentary were to Maydew, who lost a family member during it's production. Maydew shared that he tried to stop Whitfield from documenting the experience, thinking it to be too personal. Thanks to Kickstarter, the film was completed and has hit festivals like the Los Angeles Film Festival where it picked up the Audience Award. Courtney had a more, celebrate his life approach, fondly remembering his friend and first professional idol as Whitfield had just landed the leading role, was happily married with kids and really taking off. Whereas Courtney was tending bar when he landed Spartacus and has now gone on to appear in Die Hard 5, Jack Reacher, Terminator Genisys and Divergent. He's also the godfather to Whitfield's kids and got heavily involved in producing the documentary.

Be Here Now is playing all week at the Monica Film Center with guests from the film, the Lymphoma Research Foundation, various medical associations and The Matrix's Carrie-Anne Moss? If you're not in New York or Los Angeles, demand a screening in your town via tugg.

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