The 30-minute documentary by a filmmaker with primary-progressive multiple sclerosis doesn’t settle for easy answers about the causes of the disease.
Anyone interested in understanding multiple sclerosis from a patient’s point of view should make time to watch Jason DaSilva’s insightful, moving new documentary Predicting My MS.
In the 30-minute film, which debuted on Feb. 23 on Nova, DaSilva shows what it is like living with primary-progressive MS, a type of MS that results in neurological symptoms that steadily worsen instead of the flare-ups that characterize the more common relapsing-remitting form of the disease.
The framing device of DaSilva’s documentary is that he is on a search for an answer about why he came down with MS in 2005 when he was in his mid-20s. The 43-year-old filmmaker interviews experts possible risk factors, ranging from family history (i.e., genetic predisposition) to vitamin D deficiency to childhood obesity to exposure to toxic chemicals. He weaves autobiographical details in with the expert opinion to explore which of the factors might apply to him.
The documentary is a polished work. DaSilva uses wry, imaginative animations to explain the pathology of MS and the incidence and other epidemiologic aspects of the disease, as well as the “talking heads” from his interview with experts and clinicians, many of whom are at NYU Langone Health in New York.
Risk factor by risk factor, DaSilva shows which apply to him. Many don’t. For example, family members don’t recall anyone in his extended family having MS or MS symptoms. He was a slender child without obesity, “didn’t really smoke” and spent his childhood in Miami (MS is more common in populations that live away from equator). DaSilva cautiously moots the idea that frequent vaccinations for travel might be a risk factor but then shows interviews with experts who say that vaccinations are not a risk factor and, in fact, might reduce MS risk. “Well, so much for that,” says DaSilva, jauntily.
DaSilva doesn’t end his film with pat answers and instead goes in the opposite direction: “My quest for answers led to no definitive conclusions,” he says in voice over as images of him in his motorized wheelchair in New York go by. “I am left feeling frustrated that there is no answer as to why I got MS yet also hopeful that my journey is not at its end and one day there will be a fuller understanding about why people get multiple sclerosis.”
“I think patients with MS should not feel guilty for a second that they did something wrong or that they did something to deserve this disease and if only they had done something differently they wouldn’t have gotten sick,” Jonathan Howard, M.D., of NYU Langone Health says near the end of documentary. “Who knows, maybe we’ll discover one day there is some behavior that leads to MS and we can tell people to avoid it but we are certainly not there yet and that is a very important message that people should take home.”
This is DaSilva’s second film about his disease. His 2013 documentary film was titled When I Walk. Some write-ups of Predicting My MS said he is working on a third film to complete a trilogy about his condition.
DaSilva has also made a film about disability, and he founded AXS Map, a mapping application that rates the accessibility of businesses to people with disabilities.