Homesick Backstory

Susan started making Homesick in 1997. Released in 2013, this increasingly relevant documentary provides a story that is needed now more than ever. Homesick documents the physical and emotional experiences of people with MCS through personal portraits, bringing a human face to an often-unseen population. This serves to lessen their isolation and increase their acceptance in their communities and even in their own families, where they are often misunderstood or disbelieved.

Through these stories, Homesick educates the public about the nature and impact of Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, and in particular, the unique access needs of people with MCS. By focusing on the importance of safe housing, the film helps people who are currently ill and can help prevent others from becoming sick. It helps people with MCS to find out about available resources, and helps them to educate their personal support networks. It also helps to connect people with MCS to the broader community of people with disabilities, and can alert those with chronic respiratory, immune or neurological conditions to environmental factors that may be impacting their health. Homesick is a wake up call to those who feel ill, but perhaps have not recognized environmental factors that may be contributing to the cause of their poor health, such as Gulf War veterans, 9/11 first responders, and those living in the polluted aftermath of Katrina and the BP oil spill.

Susan’s Story:
Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). From that point on my life changed completely. Before I got sick, I was singing professionally in clubs and concerts and teaching music. Now, MCS controls where I live, what I eat, what I wear, where I go, what I buy (or, more often, what I do not buy), even whom I hug. My own housing history since having MCS is a typical one: I had been renting an apartment in Somerville, MA for 5 years when my landlord informed me I needed to vacate, for her newly married daughter. It took a year to find a rental (a friend owned) in neighboring Watertown that I could tolerate. I lived there fairly successfully (documented in “Funny You Don’t Look Sick”, 1995) except for the time my landlord unwittingly put down treated cedar chips right under my first floor windows.

I was forced to leave immediately. I hastily made an arrangement to sleep on a friend’s kitchen floor until I arranged to have the chips removed. Then a year later, the owner decided to sell the house and wanted my place vacant. In 1996, I received a court ordered extension of 12 months so I could stay in a safe place, while I looked for another. Three weeks before the order was up, I found an apartment that would be my next home for 8 years. This is documented in my first film “Funny you Don’t Look Sick”.

Homesick Timeline:

Susan received an ADA grant from Very Special Arts.

The initial filming of her 6-week road trip with a professional camerawoman, Laurel Greenberg takes place

1997 – 2001
When Susan returns from the road trip Susan’s own health and housing problems prevents work on the film… for the next five years.

Brad Kimbrough volunteers and edits a draft of Homesick at Newton’s Cable access station. The first 120-minute rough cut of Homesick is completed.

With the help of editor Richard Fomo, an 8-minute fundraising trailer of Homesick is produced.

Meanwhile, Susan’s health rapidly declines due to increasing mold levels in the basement of her apartment. The owner of her building decided he could not afford to remediate. Susan needed another place to live and knew it would take a long time to look. It was the beginning of an exhaustive housing search that lasted over 3 years, eventually bringing her to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The 8-minute trailer of Homesick is put on the Homesick website. According to the web server statistics, there have been 91,154 successful requests to view this video. These viewers are potentially local, regional and international in geography.

The Homesick 8-minute trailer is screened at the MCS Town Hall in Santa Fe viewed by Secretary Pam Hyde, Human Services Dept., Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham, Dept. of Health, Secretary Deborah Armstrong, Aging & Long-Term Services Dept., the Secretary of Children, Youth, and Families and The Deputy Secretary Public Education Department.

The Homesick Trailer becomes a finalist in the Third NM Governor’s Cup Film Competition.

The Homesick Trailer is screened 3 times to capacity crowds at the Santa Fe Film Center

The Homesick Trailer is screened at Santa Fe’s Center For Contemporary Art’s as part of their Megabytes 4 Festival.

2008 – 2009
Susan, in association with the North 4 Arts Center in Albuquerque, applied for and received funds from the NM Governor’s Commission on Disability’s Quality of Life grant. A local editor created a second rough cut although there were not enough funds to get the film to where Susan wanted it to be.

2010 – 2011
Susan got more ill, and at this time, felt like she had finally to give up on the idea of finishing the film. However, a phone call with writer, Aurora Levins Morales changed all that. Aurora connected Susan with Basil Shadid of Dual Power Productions and two years latter…

Homesick completed and released September 2013.

Following Up:
As it turns out, the delay of completing the film has offered Susan unique opportunity to do follow-ups of the people Susan originally interviewed in 1997. How they are managing now? Where are they living? Has their health improved in a cleaner, nontoxic environment? You can find this information now on the Homesick website:

Unfortunately, nothing much as changed for people with MCS since 1997, which makes the film completely current even though it was shot 16 years ago.

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