Q&A with 'Very Rare' Director, Megan Hattie Stahl
Thanks for bearing with us. Sorry we've been AWOL! The world has been (and continues to be) very crazy. Let's take a moment to breathe and talk with Megan Hattie Stahl, the filmmaker behind 'Very Rare,' a short documentary about Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, where Megan follows her partner, Nate, as he endures his floxing journey, and she reaches out to other floxies around the world over Skype.
The film is a very unique, artistic way of spreading the word about Fluoroquinolone Toxicity. I'm super grateful that Megan took the time to share some of her thoughts with us!
Reply to this email with your own questions for our upcoming live watch party! Details at the end.
Your partner, Nate, was floxed. How did he find out?
In August of 2018, Nate was prescribed Cipro for suspected prostatitis after a weaker antibiotic proved to be ineffective. His mom, a doctor, had warned him in advance that Cipro could, in rare cases, have bad side effects, so he was definitely on guard. Once his Achilles tendons started feeling weird (over Labor Day weekend), he felt pretty sure it was due to the Cipro. Then, through online research, he discovered online floxie communities and learned of the pervasiveness of FQ toxicity.
How did you feel when Nate was first experiencing symptoms?
Up until that point, I had never experienced any serious, long-term health issues, nor had any of my immediate family or close peers. I remember feeling scared and concerned about what he was going through, but naively just hoping he would be "better” soon so he could go back to living his life “normally." I now know that when it comes to floxing, that’s not always possible.
When did you decide you wanted to make a film and why?
I decided to explore the idea of making a film about Nate’s experience around Christmas 2018, as he was still experiencing symptoms. On the one hand, what he was going through was obviously really tough for him, but it also made me feel quite powerless. I felt like there wasn’t anything I could do besides ask him how he was doing.
Around this time I was applying to a Documentary Intensive workshop at BRIC in Brooklyn and needed to pitch a film project I would work on during the class. That’s when it clicked; maybe the way I could help Nate (and other floxies) most was by telling this story.
Was it difficult to make a film about Nate while he was struggling?
It definitely wasn’t easy for either of us, as you can probably see from the film. During particularly scary times, such as when he was worried about his heart, things were a bit tense around the making of the film. It was hard for me when, as a filmmaker, I felt I should film him, but as his partner, I was afraid of pressuring or annoying him.
How did you support Nate while he was floxed, physically or emotionally?
Physically, I don’t remember there being too much I could do beyond occasionally massaging his feet and ankles. I eventually figured out that the way to be most emotionally supportive was perhaps not to ask him how his ankles/body felt all the time. I think it was best to just be there to listen when he felt like he wanted to share, and to validate what he was experiencing. Over the few months I was shooting the film, from around January to April 2019, I felt I should always be looking for opportunities to film. Once I decided I was done shooting, I think that was a big relief for both of us.
Your film really explores the nature of online support groups within the floxie community. What was it like accessing those communities and meeting other floxies for the first time over Skype?
I feel so grateful to James, Seb, Delia, Jere, Hanna, Yvette, and Greg for opening up to me over Skype about something so personal. Not being a floxie myself, Nate actually posted in those groups for me to help me find volunteers to participate in the film. Interviewing the respondents was pretty heavy and emotional at times for all involved, and was a lot for me to take in and process, personally. But I think many of them were glad to be able to tell their stories and be involved in the project.
What did you want to accomplish with your film, 'Very Rare?’
My goal was to raise awareness about fluoroquinolone toxicity and help folks realize that their doctors, despite themselves, may not always know what’s best when it comes to antibiotics. I hope those who watch the film will feel empowered to ask their doctors about alternate treatments if a fluoroquinolone antibiotic prescription is recommended, or at least to raise the concern of adverse side effects. I also wanted to validate the experiences of those who have been floxed by providing a platform to share their stories.
'Very Rare' came out in festivals around the same time of the pandemic. Although it didn't get the festival circuit run it deserved, what did people say about 'Very Rare,' about fluoroquinolone toxicity? What are next steps with this film, your career?
I felt lucky to have been able to premiere the film at the Socially Relevant Film Festival, an NYC-based festival which was held online this past May. ‘Very Rare' screened in a block with other films about medicine and health, and it was really interesting to speak with other filmmakers who had worked with similar themes.
In general, very few non-floxie viewers had heard of floxing. When it first screened in Brooklyn at the completion of my Documentary Intensive, someone came up to me afterwards, visibly emotional. This person said they now felt sure they'd been floxed and it felt like the film was speaking directly to them. The reality of that is incredibly sad, but that’s exactly what I want this film to do. Adverse reactions to FQ's are not “very rare.” It’s just that not many people know to look out for them. I hope the film, which is now publicly viewable on Vimeo, can be shared widely and maybe licensed for academic use.
In terms of my career, I’ve just started an MFA program in Integrated Media Arts at Hunter College and can’t wait to further develop my storytelling, research, and teaching skills over the next few years. I’m also working on launching an online archive which will attempt to locate all existing Sonicas (a rare synthesizer produced in 1979). Oh, and I host a film podcast with a film programmer friend of mine.
And lastly, of course, how is Nate now?
Nate is doing a lot better now than he was in 2018-2019. Sadly, he still doesn’t want to risk trying to run or rock climb as he used to. His symptoms (Achilles tendon pain and peripheral neuropathy in his feet and ankles) come and go in waves, with flareups every few weeks or so.
Since being floxed he has also struggled with sensitivity to some nightshades, which he suspects to be due to degradation of his stomach lining and an increased level of inflammation in his body.
We are so excited to announce that we are hosting a live watch party of Very Rare on our Facebook Page October 23rd at 7PM Eastern Time / 4PM Pacific Time. Be sure to mark your calendars!
Reply to this email with your own questions you would like to ask Megan or Nate for our watch party!
You can watch Very Rare here on Vimeo and listen to Megan's podcast here.
Floxie, Director, and Producer of 'Floxed'