'Under the Eightball'
Documenting the ravages of Lyme disease -- and the politics surrounding the disease.
By Kevin Thomas
December 18, 2009
Timothy Grey and Breanne Russell's brisk, utterly compelling "Under the Eightball" is a documentary, as provocative and disturbing as imaginable, that plays like a top-notch biological thriller.
In July 2007, Grey's sister Lori Hall-Steele, a healthy 43-year-old writer living in idyllic Traverse City, Mich., starts experiencing difficulty walking and soon ends up in a wheelchair -- and worse.
Grey and Russell chart every incident in Hall-Steele's rapidly deteriorating condition and failure to be properly diagnosed with Lyme disease. Right off, there's the mystery of why it's so hard to find out what's wrong with her -- and suspense as to whether a cure will be found in time to save her life.
"Under the Eightball" is at once far-reaching and intimate, rightly scary and urgent. Grey is a feisty, fearless interrogator and his confrontations with others are sometimes charged with dark humor.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers cast an ever-widening net, surveying Michigan's sorry history of industrial pollution while dealing with stonewalling bureaucrats who resist testing Hall-Steele's water supply and rigid medical specialists delivering incorrect diagnoses -- plus her looming insurance coverage crisis.
By now, "Under the Eightball" is becoming a real-life horror picture with Grey and Russell delving into biological warfare, especially the hideous experiments conducted by Japanese and German scientists, many of whom ended up in U.S. government labs. One is Plum Island Animal Disease Center, where among many experiments, ticks were injected with terrible disease. Significantly, Plum Island is just off Long Island -- and very near the leafy Connecticut town of Lyme, which gave the name to the tick-borne disease decades ago.
One of the filmmakers' discoveries is that the admissible test for Lyme disease narrows the possibilities for diagnosing a highly variable malady.Why is this so? The many experts they interview suggest that omnipotent pharmaceutical industries, with their economic power over government and academia, are more concerned with big profits from prescribed drug treatments than with actual cures.The film's most unsettling documentation is that the government not only has a long history of secretly exposing the public to biological testing but also that it apparently continues.