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A LION IN THE HOUSE began as an idea in the mind of Dr. Robert Arceci, Director of Pediatric Oncology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Arceci was the Director of Hematology/Oncology at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center when he contacted filmmakers Bognar & Reichert to discuss the possibility of making a long-form documentary about families facing childhood cancer. When he approached the filmmakers, he did not know that their own child (Julia's daughter, Steven's step-daughter) had recently finished her own battle with childhood cancer.
Filming began on July 4th, 1997, in the backyard of the Lougheed family, as Alex and Jackie Lougheed raced around on their big wheels. Over the course of the first year, the filmmakers gradually met the five families who appear in the film.
Filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert were given complete access to the children, their families and the medical teams treating them, resulting in stories with extraordinary detail. By taking their cameras inside hospital rooms, family homes, and staff meetings of the doctors and nurses, the filmmakers give audiences a chance to witness families and medical professionals as they wrestle with difficult questions and negotiate a plan of action in a field where there are few guideposts and fewer guarantees.
Filming continued into 2005. Altogether, the filmmakers shot over 525 hours of digital video. The final film contains less than 1 percent of the raw footage they recorded. The filmmaking team expanded to include a handful of highly talented editors. They began editing the footage in 2000. The first full rough cut, completed in 2002, ran over 20 hours. By 2004, the film was down to 8 hours. And in 2005, it found its final length of 3 hours 45 minutes.
LION took a big leap forward when ITVS, the Independent Television Service came on board, making the film an official co-production. ITVS funds, supports and promotes independent films in the U.S., and presents them on PBS. ITVS took the lead in launching a major national outreach campaign, bringing together America's top cancer research and support organizations as national partners.
Due to the recent changes in privacy and security laws, including the federal enactment of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, videotaping in any hospital is now much more restricted. If they were starting today, Bognar and Reichert could not make this film, because of HIPAA rules.
The film they created owes its unflinching intimacy and depth to the generous and brave cooperation the families and to Cincinnati Children's Hospital's doctors and nurses.
A LION IN THE HOUSE is truly an epic film in stature and length. At nearly four hours, it is the longest film ever to be selected for the documentary competition at Sundance Film Festival, where it received several standing ovations.
"Cancer goes hand in hand with huge uncertainty," said Bognar. "As we were filming, we saw how complex so many of the choices are, not only for the families but for the doctors as well. This movie, like real life, all happens in the present tense. No one knew what the outcomes would be."
Julia Reichert recalls, "We were present for intimate, scary, inspiring and altogether heart-rending events. Points of view diverged and nerves frayed as very hard decisions were faced every day. Everyone we observed cared deeply, no one was perfect, but no one a bad guy - everyone was trying their best."
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