TV documentary probes mysteries, treatments, advances in cancer

Thu Mar 26, 2015 10:24am EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For documentary maker Ken Burns the film "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" has a special significance because the multiple Emmy award-winner's mother died of the disease when he was a boy.

Burns was 11 years old when she lost her battle with cancer, an event he said robbed him of his childhood.

"It was the defining moment of my life," the 61-year-old filmmaker said in an interview. "I wouldn't be who I am had that not happened, as tragic as that is."

Burns, whose many films range from "The Civil War" to "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," is the executive producer and creative consultant of the three-part, six-hour TV film that delves into the disease that kills about 8 million people globally each year.

Directed by Barak Goodman ("Scottsboro: An American Tragedy") and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Indian-born American scientist Siddhartha Mukherjee, the documentary will begin airing on PBS on Monday.

Part scientific and investigative report, the series chronicles the history of cancer, early misconceptions, discoveries into its causes, the development of chemotherapy and targeted therapies and the latest advances in immunotherapy.

"It is a very complex, multidimensional, multilevel presentation," Burns said of the documentary, which also has a deep emotional component.

The series includes archival film, commentary by medical experts and modern case studies showing the trauma, tragedy and triumphs of children and adults coping with cancer.   Continued...

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns speaks about his film, The Central Park Five, at the National Press Club in Washington April 12, 2013.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque