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'D' is for dialysis: Community Cinema documentary explores organ donation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon Sept. 2, 2009 - Jim Granato describes his documentary "D tour" as "a rock 'n' roll film about life, death and bodily functions."

The "D," by the way, stands for dialysis, and the film chronicles the life of Pat Spurgeon, a young indie rock musician who finds himself on the brink of career success -- and kidney failure. Spurgeon is determined not to let the disease keep him from touring with his band Rogue Wave.

"Music is my entire world,'' Spurgeon says in the film, as he and the band consider the health risks of peritoneal dialysis -- an ambulatory form done through a catheter -- while touring hundreds of miles in a van.

"I sleep, and I eat, and I play music,'' he says.

Decision made. Let's hit the road.

The film will be screened at 7 p.m., Thurs. as part of the Community Cinema Series at the Missouri History Museum. Afterward, a local panel will discuss organ donation and transplants.

The film has spawned similar discussions about these life-and-death topics wherever it has been screened, Granato said during an interview with the Beacon.

"Organ donation is an issue a lot of people don't really talk about too much," he said. "The question is posed to most people when they get their driver's license -- which is about every five years -- and nobody really thinks about it, otherwise. And death -- nobody really talks about that."

Granato, 36, an independent filmmaker and videographer in San Francisco, served as the documentary's producer, director, photographer and editor. He also funded most of the project -- about 80 hours of footage shot over nearly three years. He and Spurgeon are both natives of Bloomington, Ind., though they didn't meet until about 12 years ago, while both were working in San Francisco.

Spurgeon suggested the film as a way to spread awareness of kidney disease and organ donation, Granato said. The musician was born with one kidney and had previously undergone a kidney transplant. He knew what he was facing the second time around.

"It's a very emotional film," Granato said. "It's a very real, unique sort of story, very much about life and death, and twists and turns that occur that neither Pat nor I thought in a million years would happen."

Though the subject matter is serious, the film is also entertaining. Not surprising, there is plenty of music, including live performances by Ben Gibbard, Nada Surf, Ryan Miller, John Vanderslice, in addition to Spurgeon's band. The film uses colorful informational graphics to help explain the medical terminology.

Granato also points to the film's underlying message of community. In this case, the indie rock community pitching in to help one of their own.

Or, as one musician put it while introducing a benefit concert for Spurgeon: "Rock and roll and friendship are going to save the day."

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.