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Meet the Academy Award® Nominees: Irene Taylor Brodsky--'The Final Inch'

By Tom White

Over the next ten days, we at IDA will be introducing--and in some cases, re-introducing--our community to the filmmakers whose work has been nominated for an Academy Award for either Best Documentary Feature or Best Documentary Short Subject. As we did in conjunction with the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase that we presented last summer, we have asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far, and the impact of an Academy Award nomination.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Irene Taylor Brodsky, director/producer of The Final Inch, which is nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category.

Synopsis: Nearly 50 years after a vaccine for polio was developed in the United States, the polio virus still finds refuge in some of the world's most vulnerable places. Into India's impoverished neighborhoods, The Final Inch follows the massive--and yet highly personalized--mission to eradicate polio from the planet. One of history's most feared diseases, now largely forgotten, polio has become a disease of the world's poor.



IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Irene Taylor Brodsky: Still photography was my first love. In 1990, I joined a documentary film project on the Cree Nation up in Northern Quebec as a location photographer. Throughout the early '90s, I was living in Kathmandu and photographing a book on disabled people of the Himalayas. I proposed to UNICEF that we turn my work into a film, as part of their efforts to help children in exceptional circumstances. And so in 1993, I made Ishara, a half-hour documentary about deaf children living in Nepal.

IDA: What inspired you to make The Final Inch?

ITB: The philanthropic division of Google was interested in promoting more awareness about polio, and often-underestimated efforts of public health workers and volunteers fighting this forgotten disease around the world. They approached me about it, and I quickly realized the epic value of the story. I have made several films about disability, and so this idea really appealed to my interests and sensibilities. 

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

ITB: Finding polio survivors here in the US was easy; all you have to do is scratch the surface of most American families and there it is--an uncle, a brother, a daughter...someone suffered from polio. Shooting in India and Afghanistan, where polio still exists, was the real challenge. Polio eradication has faced many obstacles in India, so at first the government was wary about granting us permission to film in the country. Shooting in conservative Muslim communities was tricky, and sometimes I had to take on the camera work because women were wary of allowing outside men into their homes-certainly, American men. Afghanistan was extremely dangerous, and our producer, Tom Grant, wore a bulletproof vest every day for three weeks. Despite his UN protection, the situation was volatile and it was difficult to follow storylines through to completion--especially if it meant putting our Afghani subjects in danger.

IDAHow did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

ITB: We originally hoped to include a story from India, another from the US and something from Afghanistan, but because of all the shooting obstacles in Afghanistan, we decided to narrow our focus once we arrived in the editing room. Otherwise, the original vision--to shoot compelling imagery and to focus on the workers and not just the disease itself--we stuck to through the end.

IDA: As you've screened The Final Inch--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

ITB: Audiences are stunned by the sheer size of the global eradication effort. In one single day in India, for example, polio workers can vaccinate more than 150 million children. And several million people work on polio eradication in India alone. Those are astonishing numbers for a disease most of us here in the US have all but forgotten about.

IDA: Where were you when you first heard about your Academy Award nomination? Although it's only been three weeks since the announcement, how do you anticipate this nomination will impact your career as a filmmaker?

ITB: I was feeding my newborn baby at 5:30 a.m. when I decided to check I realized the nomination sitting alone at my computer in the dark, before the sun came up on the West Coast. I think the most significant impact of this nomination right now is the awareness it will bring to the issue of polio and to the dedicated people working the frontlines of public health in the world's poorest places. 

IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

ITB: One of my favorite doc scenes ever is the opening scene of Salesman, the Maysles brothers' breakthrough film. Documentary portraiture is my favorite kind of film--whether vérité or narrated doesn't matter. Recent favorites include Herzog's Grizzly Man and the Metallica portrait Some Kind of Monster.

The Final Inch will be screening Saturday, February 21 at 11:45 a.m. at the Writers Guild of America Theater in Beverly Hills, as part of DocuDay LA, and at 12:15 p.m. at the Paley Center for Media in New York City as part of DocuDay NY.

For more information on DocuDay LA, click here.

For more information on DocuDay NY, click here.