Childhood cancer is one of those topics that I believe we don’t want to address as a society. Numbers don’t lie; only 4% of the budget of the National Cancer Institute goes to pediatric cancer research. As long as it doesn’t affect us personally, by those numbers, sadly it seems we’d rather keep living our lives with no regard to the issue, myself included. Perhaps it’s because we’d be faced with our own mortality, our children’s, or because to be honest, it’s somber. So when it comes to a movie, why would you want to watch one about childhood cancer? Keep reading and I’ll tell you!
James Ragan was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 13. When we first meet him, he’s bald, skinny from treatments, and way stronger than most of us. He’s viewing the latest results from a scan with his doctor and family. He tells the doctor that he’d like to “preserve a little bit of quality for when we’ve sorta kicked the can as far as we can kick it so to speak.” It’s this statement and James’ strength in the face of a doctor telling him that without further treatment he has six months to live- within the first five minutes of the film- that engages you to want to see and learn more about James and his journey.
What “Until 20” provides is a pure look into a young man and his family’s life as they’re going through it. There’s no doubt that when the film picks up James has already been through the fire, and his strength and resolve to help other pediatric cancer patients is inspiring. James created the Triumph Over Kid Cancer Foundation in 2007 as a way to raise money and awareness to the cause. Throughout the film it’s obvious that because life isn’t promised to him, he lives his to the fullest, enriching and encouraging the lives of those around him.
Typically in a film like this you expect to focus on how awesome the main character is, and hear from people who will testify to it. While that is a part of the film, you slowly get to know the people surrounding James, pulling you into his family and village of loved ones. Whether it’s his mother Gloria, who is trying to keep it together and be there for her son, while simultaneously missing out on being present for her daughter because of it. Or his sister Mecklin, who loves her brother with all her heart, and yet sacrifices attention and love from her parents at times because her brother needs it more. The doctor, who has to tell James (and one would assume other cancer patients) the bad news, while also viewing him as someone that he hopes his sons will grow up to be like. The list goes on, but the evidence of how cancer’s effects ripple out to those surrounding James is apparent. Yet, a constant sense of love and resilience comes through in every frame. That’s what makes the film powerful.
Another thing that stands out about “Until 20” is the stylistic shot choices and poetic technical nature of the film. One would usually expect a film of this theme to be run and gun, with not much thought into the shooting style outside of capturing the events. While a couple of times the style choice feels a little too much (some scenes in which an interviewee is emotional and the camera continues to dolly side to side), it is aesthetically beautiful. The time and care given to the film by directors Geraldine Moriba-Meadows and Jamila Paksima is evident in the film’s construction from production value to the way the story is laid out. As I watched, I couldn’t help but feel like the Ragan family came together and agreed to tell their story, unfiltered, as a unit, and that James wanted to document his journey for the world to see. Faced with that responsibility, Meadows and Paksima stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.
Sitting through “Until 20” is in no way a walk in the park. It’s unsettling at times, causes you to put your own life in proper perspective, and has its Kleenex moments. Grounded in the reality of life, the film puts a face to childhood cancer and allows you to experience the love, trials, and pain that a family affected by cancer must endure. At the same time it’s uplifting and beautiful! It's cliche to say, but the film is truly more about living your life and embracing each moment. The love that the Ragan family has for one another is undeniable. I couldn’t help but think that the film is exactly what James wanted. While our lives are but a mist, film is forever, and with this film his message lives on and speaks to the heart of a viewer in ways that a speech never could! Hopefully with this film, one family’s loss is the world’s gain, as it inspires us to get involved in some small or large way.
You can learn more at http://triumphoverkidcancer.org/.
Visit http://until20.com/ to find out more about the film and future screenings.