John Cantú: Lights, camera and a call to action
“Lights, Camera, Action” signals the start of another day busy day for filmmaker John Cantú who works as a trailer editor on some of the nation’s biggest films. Recently, however, John realized that the call for “Action” means something quite different for a person living with multiple sclerosis, such as his girlfriend’s brother, Chuy. For Chuy, he never anticipated getting up each morning with a positive attitude to face the challenges of a new day when he first began experiencing a series of unexplained symptoms in 2003.
The more John spoke with Chuy, the more he recognized that within the Hispanic/Latino communities there seemed to be a lack of understanding about MS, its diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. “It took five years before Chuy received a definitive diagnosis,” said John. “He was already using a wheelchair and had stopped working. He had also been mistakenly told that he had about five years to live.”
John had already worked with the Society through Toy Box Entertainment, so he knew that the Society had extensive programs aimed at providing information and assistance to the Hispanic/Latino communities. He decided to use his talents and expertise to raise awareness of MS directly among this important population.
So John conceived the idea of Better, an Internet video series, which brings the story of MS to life through the eyes of Lily, a folklorico (Mexican folk ballet) dancer. Lily takes the audience along on her journey as she finds a new way of realizing her dreams, which now include the reality of her MS, but without letting the MS define her. “There is a lot of inherent drama and conflict in a story about someone whose whole life is about movement and who then gets diagnosed with a disease that steals your ability to move,” observes John.
“I chose the folklorico setting for my MS film project because my girlfriend dances folklorico and it’s such a world of blazing color and vitality that you cannot help but be drawn into it,” says John. “Also, although I’m half-Mexican myself, I didn’t grow up immersed in the culture, so it was something I always wanted to explore.”
In developing Better, the actress playing Lily, Liliana Medina, spoke to a number of people living with MS to gain an understanding about how the illness affects movement and how it affects everyone differently. “The story itself draws on several people’s lives,” reports John, “and perhaps, surprisingly, some of the moments that you might find hardest to believe are the ones based on those actual experiences, such as getting arrested for appearing drunk.”
Betteris a not-for-profit project, produced to raise awareness of MS and to raise funds for the Society. Several Los Angeles–based dance and music groups donated their time and talents to the project. “Better has without question been the most challenging, creative experience of my life,” John says. “I want to share the message of Better with everyone to inform them that there is help and support out there and that you don’t have to go it alone.” View the Better series free.