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Martha's Vineyard Times is a weekly publication.
July 14 - July 20, 2005 Edition
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A film of love and courage
Dan Aronie, 33, has deepest dark eyes and long, lean limbs like his
parents. But unlike Chilmark writer Nancy Aronie and inventor Joel
hes confined to a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis.
Dan Aronie faces life head-on with a smile. Photo by Liz Witham
You need to listen carefully to what he says or you may miss one of
his witty wisecracks. Dont be afraid of him. And forget about
pity. This wise, resilient, deeply feeling man is a survivor despite
his disease-ravaged body.
His story, A Certain Kind of Beauty, has been recorded
by Aquinnah documentary filmmaker Liz Witham and Dans mother
Nancy. It premieres Thursday, July 21, at 7 p.m. in the Marthas
Vineyard Center for the Performing Arts. Emcee for the evening is
comedian Marty Nadler, and director Harold Ramis (Analyze That)
will introduce Dan for questions.
Aronie was living in Denver when symptoms of MS, an auto-immune disease
of the central nervous system appeared. At 22, he looked like a handsome
version of Bob Dylan, worked as a motorcycle mechanic and played a
lot of pool.
His deterioration began with a tremor in one hand and numbness in
the other. Eventually, he lost the ability to walk. As the film graphically
demonstrates, he has never lost the capacity to think or feel and
He has railed at and rejected God, considered suicide, endured a lot
of pain and taken his lifes lot with humor. He swears a lot.
Women let their defenses down just by being with him, his mother says.
This man dines frequently with his parents and friends at his brother
Joshs Oak Bluffs restaurants, Park Corner Bistro and the newer
Sharkeys Cantina. He lives in a Vineyard Haven house his father
bought him and shares it with a housemate named Jules. Friends and
supporters are attracted to him like flies to honey.
Family friend and Somerville resident Jerry Storrow called up eight
years ago to announce hed inherited a little bit of money and
asked what he could do to help.
I said cashmere, replied Nancy, clearly the
inspiration for her sons sense of humor. How do you keep
your heart open in hell? Nancy asks. Then she shows the way.
Dan always wanted to be an actor, she says, So I
asked him, Howd you like to make a movie and crack this
She got Storrow to finance purchase of a camcorder and help her make
a film about Dan. Already an experienced videographer who had worked
at Bostons WGBH, Storrow made a natural fit as a filming supervisor.
Seventy-five hours of footage later, Liz Witham, a product of Stanford
School of Documentary Film and Video Production and her partner Ken
Wentworth of Film-Truth Productions, signed on. As the daughter of
singer Kate Taylor, Witham grew up literally looking up at the statuesque
Aronies, friends of her mothers. Withams father sent her
clips of Nancys stories when she was away at school.
I always admired her writing and her effervescence, Witham
says. Witham had just finished her Stanford M.A. when Nancy told her,
I have all these tapes, and asked her to put together
15 minutes of the best clips from the footage of Dan for a Hartford
I had the best time working with her. Witham says. I
knew I had to do justice to Dans story.
At first she wasnt sure what the structure would be. But as
she made her way through the raw material, she saw a through-line.
I saw the pain, the release, the suffering, the questioning.
It was similar to what Witham herself was experiencing at the time
through the loss of her father to liver disease. She realized there
was something universal about Dans situation, that everyone
sooner or later experiences the loss or degeneration of a loved one.
That subject, along with the way relationships change when undergoing
such a loss, became the story. Everyone goes through it, and
nobody talks about it, she says. Dans story wanted
to be told.
Wentworths and Withams production company specializes
in raising money for and making films bout socially relevant issues
not usually covered by mainstream media. Then they partner with organizations
to develop outreach. Juggling other projects on mental illness and
the criminal justice system, Witham began to add her own perspective
by interviewing Dan, members of the family, and friends. Now she jokes
that it will never be finisheduntil someone literally pulls
the videotapes out of her hands.
I dont think ultimately its a sad film, Witham
says. Sure, there are sad moments, but there are moments of
pure, unadulterated happiness, too. She calls the film humorous,
inspirational, thought provoking, and most importantly
reassuring. If Dan can survive something like this, so can we
all survive whatever we have to.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Kate Davis (Pucker Up),
a Chilmark summer resident, has lent her talents to the project as
a consulting editor. Hollywood filmmaker Harold Ramis got involved
after his wife Ericka took one of Nancy Aronies writing workshops.
So have many other Vineyarders. Peter (Fever Pitch) and
Melinda Farrelly have pitched in. So have Bob Vila (This Old
House) and TV producer Diane Barrett.
There has been amazing community support, Nancy Aronie
says. Its like an extended family. Last year Oak
Bluffs merchant Jon Blau organized an event at the Hot Tin Roof where
an early version of the film was shown to raise money so Dan could
buy a van to travel in.
Once the films fine tuning is finished, Witham, Wentworth, and
Aronie hope to sell it to a network or cable company for national
distribution. Dan, of course, gets in the last word.
I want this film to sell, so I can pay back my father for my
house, he says. Then he pitches his latest joke: What
do you get when you cross a dyslexic with an insomniac agnostic? Someone
who sits up all night wondering if there is a dog.
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