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Locally Filmed 'A Lion In The House' Premieres On Netflix

Courtesy Steven Bognar
Tim Woods, with his mother Marietha, was one of five cancer patients featured in PBS' "A Lion In The House" in 2006.

A Lion In The House, the 2006 award-winning documentary about five Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center patients, debuts on Nexflix Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Yellow Springs filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, who won an Emmy and Academy Award for their American Factory film earlier this year, spent nine years shooting and editing the intimate look at the five families fighting childhood cancer. It aired originally on PBS' Independent Lens in 2006.

A Lion In The House will be available in two two-hour programs on Netflix, as it aired on PBS. It won the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award for exceptional merit in nonfiction filmmaking, and has been used as a training film in medical and nursing schools.

Credit Courtesy Steven Bognar
Judy Lougheed and her daughter, Jackie, of West Chester Township, are among the families featured in 'A Lion In The House.'

"The families in A Lion In The House were unbelievably brave and generous in sharing their cancer journey with the world," Bognar said. "Imagine doing that yourself; it's not something most of us could handle doing.  But they agreed to share their story in the hopes that their cancer journey could help other families facing the same situations. And they did, again and again and again." 

Bognar and Reichert befriended the families from various economic, racial and cultural backgrounds as they were receiving treatment at Cincinnati Children's. Their doctors and nurses also became central characters in the story. 

The filmmakers, mostly working alone as a two-person crew, spent nine years making the film. They filmed for six years (1997 through 2002) and edited from 2000 to 2006, finishing a few weeks before Lion premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

"A Lion In The House is the biggest, hardest film we ever tried to make," Bognar said. "Making Lion taught us more about love than we knew was possible. It broke our hearts and expanded our souls. We remain deeply proud of the film, and the impact the film had on the world in the years after it came out." 

Credit Courtesy Steven Bognar
Regina Fields of Walnut Hills hugs her son, Al, in a scene from the documentary.

In addition to being screened for medical and nursing students, the film also helped the movement to bring hospice care to children, Bognar said. It also explored health care disparities "at a time when this was still a nascent idea, and we received feedback for years on how useful and meaningful the film is," he said.

"We're just deeply grateful to Netflix for bringing the film back to audiences -- and not just in the USA. The film will be streaming in countries around the world, with subtitles in over two dozen languages.  This also is incredible," Bognar says.

Having seen all four hours, I can say that it's not an easy film to watch, because it's about children suffering and their parents and caregivers riding the roller coaster of cancer treatments over half of a decade.

The participating families were "incredibly supportive of the film, even though it is profoundly hard for them to watch." In 2006-07, some traveled to film festivals and spoke to many audiences. The Netflix revival prompted the filmmakers to re-connect with the families this year.

"I talked to them all, and it's been wonderful to catch up, to hear about new babies in their families, retirements, and the ups and downs of getting older. It's so meaningful to still be in touch with each family all these years later," Bognar says.

His next project with Reichert is 9to5 – The Story Of A Movement  about 9to5, National Association of Working Women established in 1973, and the sister union District (Local) 925 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

You can read more about the film at PBS' Independent Lens website.  

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.