Under Our Skin
Under Our Skin: The Untold Story of Lyme Disease is a 2008 documentary film about Lyme disease, focusing on the controversy surrounding "chronic Lyme disease", a controversial and unrecognized diagnosis. The film was directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson, who became interested in the subject after his sister contracted Lyme disease. The film had its theatrical premiere on June 19, 2009 at the IFC Center in New York City.
The film argues that persistent infection with Lyme disease is responsible for a variety of debilitating symptoms. The film presents advocates of the position, including International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). The position is at odds with that of major medical bodies including the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Neurology, who do not recognize "chronic" Lyme disease as a legitimate diagnosis. The film portrays the Infectious Diseases Society of America as "an organization riddled with conflicts of interest," and briefly discusses Richard Blumenthal's antitrust charges against the society.
The film follows six individuals including major league ball player Ben Petrick who report chronic symptoms, which they attribute to persistent Lyme infection. The majority of the film is devoted to the storyline of these patients and their reported recovery. At the same time, the film presents advocates of long-term therapies for chronic Lyme disease and briefly presents the position of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
The second half of the film focuses primarily on state medical board investigations of Joseph Jemsek and Ray Jones, two physicians who prescribe long-term antibiotics for chronic Lyme disease. Jemsek was investigated based on the complaints of 10 patients who described "nightmarish experiences" as a result of his treatment; he was supported by a number of patients and Lyme disease advocacy organizations. The board found that Jemsek had departed from standard medical practice and had failed to inform patients that his treatments were unorthodox; his medical license was suspended with stay, allowing him to continue practicing medicine. Facing a lawsuit from an insurance company, Jemsek declared bankruptcy and closed his medical practice.
The final act of the film focuses on Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's antitrust investigation of the IDSA Lyme disease guidelines. Blumenthal issued a press release in May 2008 stating that his investigation "uncovered serious flaws" in the development of the IDSA guidelines, although Blumenthal declined to file any charges. Under pressure of mounting legal fees, the IDSA agreed to submit its Lyme disease guidelines to an independent review, which supported the scientific validity of the IDSA guidelines. The case was described in Forbes as "intimidation" of the medical community by the Attorney General, and in JAMA as an example of "elected officials advocating for health policies against the weight of scientific evidence." The film concludes with vignettes of two patients discussing their recoveries.
The New York Times described the film as a "polemic" and "inflammatory."Variety noted that the film "sides with those advocating unconventional treatments, [but] gives gatekeepers from Infectious Diseases of America [sic, actually Infectious Diseases Society of America] their say."
According to meta-critic review site Rotten Tomatoes, Under Our Skin is certified "fresh". As of January, 2010, the film has received 23 positive reviews and 5 negative reviews for a fresh score of 82%.
On November 18, 2009, the Academy Awards announced Under Our Skin as one of 15 semi-finalists in the Documentary Feature category from 89 qualifying documentaries. The film did not go on to receive an Oscar nomination.
Awards and honors
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Finalist, 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Documentary Feature
Finalist, Audience Choice Award, Tribeca Film Festival (World Premiere)
Winner, Best Documentary, Houston International Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, Durango Independent Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, Sonoma International Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary, Camden International Film Festival
Winner, Audience Award, Durango Independent Film Festival
Winner, Health & Science Category, CINE Golden Eagle Awards
Winner, Infectious Diseases Category, Int'l Health & Medical Media Awards
Winner, Best Cinematography, Int'l Health & Medical Media Awards
Winner, Chris Award, Columbus International Film Festival
Winner, Best Documentary Silver Award, Asheville Film Festival
Winner, Honorable Mention, Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival
Runner-up, Audience Award, Berkshire International Film Festival
Nominee, Best Socially Conscious Documentary, IFP/Fledgling Fund
Official Selection for 15 other festivals
- Beckman, Rachel (June 17, 2008). "Film Focuses on Lyme Patients". Washington Post. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
- Feder HM, Johnson BJ, O'Connell S, et al. (October 2007). "A critical appraisal of "chronic Lyme disease"". N. Engl. J. Med. 357 (14): 1422–30. doi:10.1056/NEJMra072023. PMID 17914043.
- Holden, Stephen (June 19, 2009). "Ticked Off". New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2009.
- Whelan, David (March 12, 2007). "Lyme Inc.". Forbes. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- Fisher, Jean (June 16, 2006). "Lyme doctor ruled guilty: Jemsek's practice to face conditions". News & Observer. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- O'Hehir, Andrew (June 20, 2009). "Beyond the Multiplex: Under Our Skin". Salon.com. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- "Attorney General's Investigation Reveals Flawed Lyme Disease Guideline Process, IDSA Agrees to Reassess Guidelines, Install Independent Arbiter" (Press release). Connecticut Attorney General Office. May 1, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- "Agreement Ends Lyme Disease Investigation by Connecticut Attorney General" (Press release). Infectious Diseases Society of America. May 1, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- "Final Report of the Lyme Disease Review Panel of the Infectious Diseases Society of America". Infectious Diseases Society of America. Retrieved June 24, 2010.
- Kraemer JD, Gostin LO (February 2009). "Science, politics, and values: the politicization of professional practice guidelines". JAMA 301 (6): 665–7. doi:10.1001/jama.301.6.665. PMID 19211474.
- Under Our Skin: reviewed by Variety, May 2, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2008.
- "Under Our Skin (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 7, 2010.
- "15 Documentary Features Continue in 2009 Oscar Race" (Press release). Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. November 18, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2010.