January 14, 2010

On the Horizon: Beyond the Chair

Like most active bloggers, I get a steady stream of emails requesting me to post particular movie news, review particular films, or link to particular websites or blogs. Some of them I follow up on, most of them I do not, either out of lack of time or lack of interest. I was ready to delete an email I received from one Dusty Duprel this week before I realized it wasn't spam and I took a closer look at what he was asking me to do: 

My name is Dusty Duprel, and what I am doing is explained in the letter attached.  As you will soon read, a close friend of mine has a lot depending on spreading this letter. What's not written are the details of how rapidly his health is fading. The reason for leaving out the heart breaking details is that we don't want pity, only to celebrate what he has accomplished. I am writing you in hopes that you will post this on your website or blog for him. 

I read Dusty's letter and was touched both by how genuinely it was written and how strange it was that I, a complete stranger, could in some way help him achieve his goal. Such are the wonders of technology in the 21st century. Of course, this isn't actually about Dusty or blogging, which is why I'm just going to copy the letter directly here for you to read:

"An open letter to whom it may concern, 

Let me begin by saying that this letter is about a promise I made to a friend, a promise I need help keeping. I am not asking for money, or anything material. I only ask for the time it will take to read this letter. The promise of which I am referring to is the one I made to Drew Shelley nearly one year ago. Drew is an individual living with Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that takes his body away from him by completely deteriorating his muscles. In the three short years of our friendship, I have witnessed his body waste away to the point that he can no longer walk without assistance. The amazing thing about Drew is that in spite of all the odds stacked against him, he is filled with contagious optimism, hope, and strength of spirit.

In 2007 Drew informed me that he would quit his engineering job to travel the world as a backpacker. Simply stated, his journey seemed impossible. At that time, despite having the ability to walk a few steps unaided, Drew only weighed 90 lbs and was already reliant on a power wheelchair for the majority of his daily activities. Even an everyday task as simple as getting out of bed was a great struggle for him. I could not begin to imagine him surviving in the jungles of Cambodia or navigating the swarming streets of India. Despite all the implausibility, for some reason, I knew Drew would find a way to do it.

As fate would have it, my talented girlfriend Rachel and I were film students at San Diego State University, and we could not pass up the opportunity to tell this amazing story. So we joined Drew as documentarians on a worldwide journey that would forever change the three of us.  Today, a little over two years have passed, and we have completed an amazing and inspiring documentary of Drew’s adventure entitled: “Beyond The Chair.”

Now, back to the promise I made. In December of 2008, Rachel and I graduated film school. We initially planned to get jobs while editing the documentary in our spare time.  When we began talking about our goals for completing the film’s edit, Rachel and I briefly mentioned submitting it to the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Drew’s face lit up, he was ecstatic at the prospect of going to Park City; and to our surprise he already seemed to know everything about the festival.

We quickly realized why he became so excited; time was running short for Drew. With his body slipping away, he wanted nothing more than to still have some form of the ability to walk if he were to present his film at Sundance. The large amount of footage we had from the trip made the 2010 submission deadline seem unrealistic, but waiting any longer would be at the expense of Drew’s health. That’s when we made the promise to submit to the 2010 festival. We feel everything about this documentary has what it takes to be a Sundance film, but the question at the time was could we complete editing by the submission deadline?

With no money, no place to live, and a film that required our full-time attention, Rachel and I gave up working in LA to moved to the South Dakota farm I grew up on. The point being, it would take everything we could give to do this for Drew.

Eventually only 3 days remained before the final deadline. We found ourselves editing in a hotel room near the Sundance office.  Our plan was to work until the last possible second and then literally run a DVD of the film to the Sundance office to beat the deadline.  Being idealistic and overly optimistic caused us to fight against the reality of the situation, which was that we were a couple months, not days, away from finishing the film. The hardest part of working on the documentary was watching Drew fight back the tears swelling up in his eyes when I told him that the film was too incomplete to be accepted.

Now to the point of this letter, Drew had his heart set on being a part of Sundance and sharing his story.  We let him down. So, we would humbly ask for help from whoever can find a way to still make Drew a part of Sundance in a very small capacity. He would never ask or desire that our documentary play over the other deserving films accepted, and we would not ask that either.  What we do ask is that within the weeklong festivities, someone could find atwo-minute slot to present the documentary trailer: and by presenting it, help us give Drew the moment he deserves.This letter isn’t about pity; it’s about celebrating his accomplishments.

To show that we are genuine, Rachel and myself will not even attend Sundance as spectators, if someone could make this happen for Drew.  My birthday is on the final day of Sundance; this would be my birthday wish.  If this letter touches you, please share it with others by reposting it. You can visit our site www.btcmovie.com and click on the “Letter” tab to share this letter by facebook, twitter, or e-mail. Some people may be in a position to publish this in a blog, magazine, or newspaper, please do so.  If we all share this story in any way, the more people we will reach. And the more people we reach, the better the chance we have of finding someone who can help Drew.  In a very big way, when you share his story, that person is you.

Thank you,

Dusty Duprel, Rachel Pandza, and everyone who has been touched by Drew."


I'm clueless about what Sundance culture is like so I can only hope that this and other posts about Drew will help Dusty's chances at getting the trailer screened in honor of Drew's wish. Please watch the trailer below, then repost, tweet, or share this with others. You can also become a fan of the film on Facebook and read more about Drew's remarkable story on the Beyond the Chair website.


  1. Oh God Dan, I've been reduced to tears this afternoon. The letter moved me deeply, and then looking at this two-minite segment I am overwhelmed. This is the most beautiful posts ever at Getafilm, and I applaud you for your compassion and sportsmanship in posting it.

    Drew deserves full disclosure at Sundance!

  2. Thanks, Sam, but all the posts I could write about this wouldn't amount to anything compared to what Drew and this team of filmmakers has already done. I wish them the best of luck and look forward to seeing the feature when it's completed.

    Also, feel free to pass this on to others or contact Dusty for more information. It's a pretty scattershot approach, just seeing if anyone who has any position at all can help make this happen - but every little bit counts!

  3. Hi Dan

    I found out about Drew today and blogged about Drew on my wheelchair blog. Then I saw that you had blogged about him too It would be great if Drew's dream could become a reality.


  4. Hi Gene, thanks for stopping by and spreading the word at your blog as well. I think we can only do what we're doing and hope for the best - maybe sometime in the next week somebody with some connections at the festival will get wind of the story. It shouldn't take much convincing...





Related Posts with Thumbnails