At forty years old, Devin Dearth is a successful businessman, a loving husband, father of three, a devout Christian and champion bodybuilder. He and his family reside in the small community of Central City, Kentucky where they live the ideal “American Dream.” That is, until Devin suffers a devastating stroke. Caused by a bleed in the brain stem, the stroke leaves him paralyzed on his right side and unable to walk, with difficulty speaking, double vision and inability to care for himself or his family. He has met his ultimate adversary: The limits of his own mortality.
We follow Devin on this unconventional journey, during which his courage, faith, patience and desire to overcome are tested on a daily basis. The trials he and his family endure along the way remind us that the human spirit can transcend any boundaries while exploring a universal community of healing and transformation.
Initially, I had conflicting feelings about shooting a film during this very trying and intimate time for my family. Not only were we each struggling in our own way to deal with the devastation of my brother’s recent stroke, but I was also about to subject everyone to the additional stress of sharing this time with our cameras. In hindsight, I think it was a good idea. The very fact that Devin was participating in a film about his recovery reminded him daily that he was supposed to be getting better. I applaud him for being willing to share this journey with anyone who may face a similar struggle in the future.
With healthcare in the United States being such a big issue these days, I felt it was important to share my family’s struggle to get Devin the care he needed. But I was also inspired to show their unwillingness to fall victim of our broken system, and demonstrate their courage in seeking an alternative solution.
Additionally, I was excited for the chance to reveal a positive side to China. I think in the West we have misconceptions about China, and there are too many stories in the news focusing on the negative aspects of the society. While making this film, I was interested in focusing on the Chinese people and sharing their sense of pride and compassion.
I chose to shoot in a verité style in order to take the audience on the journey with us. I wanted to embrace the unique opportunity to make a documentary as it was happening, and to have the viewer feel like they were right there as one of our family. For this reason, I do not break out of this style to dig into the nittygritty inner workings of the health care system, nor do I fully explore the “hows and whys” of traditional Chinese medicine. I really want the audience to have the same information that we did: Nothing more. Nothing less. Being in the same position as Devin and my family, the viewer must also trust the unknown.
Aside from the obvious emotional heartbreak, the biggest obstacle in making 9,000 Needles was not knowing the outcome. Everyone wants a miracle happy ending, but life is not always like that. Sometimes it is about the little victories along the way. Our challenge as human beings is to show up every day and to give it our best shot. And if we don’t get exactly what we want or expect, we show up tomorrow and try again.
Director: Doug Dearth
Executive Producers: Michael Gleissner, Kacy Andrews, Caroleen Feeney, Igor Desyatnikov, Stephen Nemeth
Producer: Doug Dearth
Co-Producer: Douglas Busby
Editors: William T. Cartwright Jr., Doug Dearth, Kristoffer Villarino
Original Music: Laurence Tolhurst, David Robbins