"A Certain Kind of Beauty," DVD, 68 minutes, Film-Truth Productions, Vineyard Haven, Mass. 2006. $24.95; special price for orders placed before March 18, $19.95.
Those of us complaining about the gray weather, the high price of gas, and the trials of Island winter, could do well to consider the life of Dan Aronie. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 22, Dan is committed to living life fully with ever-increasing grit, courage, and amazing grace. Many Islanders know Dan, his brother Josh, and parents Joel and Nancy Aronie.
Everyone can now have the privilege of getting to know Dan Aronie and his family close-up when Island filmmakers Ken Wentworth and Liz Witham of Film-Truth Productions release their DVD, "A Certain Kind of Beauty" later this month. The hour-long documentary chronicles the dramatic changes in Dan's life during a six-year period, from the time he was 27 when the disease began to take a visible, unrelenting toll on his strength and abilities.
With his mother, Nancy, a writer and director of the Chilmark Writing Workshop, and family friend and poet Gerry Storrow wielding the cameras, we are able to witness Dan's moving and dramatic metamorphosis from a strapping, handsome aspiring actor, biker, and ladies' man with attitude, to a gentle warrior with a beatific grin and captivating humor. When Mr. Wentworth and Ms. Witham got involved, they continued filming the family, combining the original footage with their own and narration by Dan himself, Josh, Joel, and Nancy.
As we see Dan change, we see those who love him surround him with fierce love, support, and protection. From a family that Ms. Aronie says was frozen with fear, unable to speak of the specter of disease and deterioration, we witness them accepting, softening, and both laughing and crying openly, without embarrassment. In these terrifying moments as Dan confronts his disease head-on, anything and everything goes, from talk of suicide and grueling experimental brain surgery to tender interactions, zany jokes, and family games in the backyard.
Making the changes in Dan's health and life even more poignant, the filmmakers include photos of him years before - a thoughtful, dark-eyed toddler in his mother's arms, a little boy playing with his dad, a mischievous pre-teen clowning with his brother, a dashing professional model sporting a leather jacket.
Mr. Wentworth and Ms. Witham have shown the film as a work in progress several times on the Island, first at the "Van for Dan" benefit at the former Hot Tin Roof held to raise funds for a specially equipped vehicle for the wheelchair-bound Dan. All screenings have been met with enthusiastic audience response.
Today, at 37, Dan continues to live in his own Vineyard Haven home, enabled to do so by a large band of dedicated friends and helpers.
The filmmakers say the documentary has relevance to everyone, no matter what challenges they may be facing.
"I don't think it's a sad film," Ms. Witham told a reporter, stressing that the documentary is primarily reassuring. "Sure there are sad moments, but there are moments of pure, unadulterated happiness, too.... If Dan can survive something like this, so can we all survive whatever we have to."
As you view this film you will certainly laugh, you will probably cry, and without a doubt, you will know your heart has opened and life will feel newly sweet.
For more information or to order a DVD, call 508-645-3030 or visit film-truth.com.