Jim Allison: Breakthrough

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USA | 2019 | 89 minutes | Bill Haney

Perhaps the only Nobel Prize winner in Medicine to have played harmonica with Willie Nelson, James Allison and his innovative research into using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer are the center of this in-depth documentary.

70-year-old immunologist Jim Allison, Ph.D., was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of cancer therapies that stimulate the immune system to attack tumor cells. Breakthrough, a documentary by Bill Haney, will appeal to science novices and enthusiasts alike as it examines Allison's personal and professional journey that led to him becoming a Nobel Laureate. Allison describes growing up in Alice, Texas, and watching his mother die from lymphoma when he was 11. His father was the town's "country doctor," which led to Allison developing an interest in the medical sciences. He recounts his own elementary-school education that forbade the teaching of evolution, which motivated him to push against political systems that limit growth in the medical field. Currently a researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Allison is fighting his own battle with cancer for the third time. Despite his illness, he remains enthusiastic, viewing his research with an artistic eye and a sense of childlike wonder. With narration by Woody Harrelson and music by Willie Nelson—both Texas natives—Breakthrough explores Allison's hometown pride; one of the documentary's most memorable scenes involves Allison accompanying Nelson on the harmonica on "Austin City Limits" as Nelson sings "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die."

Director Biography
Founding his first company as a college freshman at Harvard, Bill Haney is a prolific filmmaker, inventor, and entrepreneur. He has made 15 narrative and documentary films, served on several high-profile boards, received or applied for over 100 patents, and co-founded or founded over a dozen tech companies. Among his awards are the Gabriel Prize, a Silver Hugo, and a Pare Lorentz Award; also, his doc The Price of Sugar was short-listed for an Oscar® . From coal mining to civil rights, Haney's documentaries focus on vital social issues; in telling the story of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Jim Allison, Haney hopes to leave the audience with "a deep and abiding sense of hope."

Sponsored by PATH, Puget Systems

  • Director: Bill Haney
  • Principal Cast: Woody Harrelson, James Allison, Sharon Belvin, Rachel Humphrey, Max Krummel
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2019
  • Running Time: 89 minutes
  • Producer: Jennifer Pearce
  • Screenplay: Bill Haney
  • Cinematographers: Graham Talbot, Nelson Talbot
  • Editors: Peter Rhodes
  • Music: Mark Orton, Mickey Raphael
  • Filmography: The Last Mountain (Doc., 2011); The Price of Sugar (Doc., 2007); A Life Among Whales (Doc., 2005); Racing Against the Clock (Doc., 2004)
  • Language: English
  • Format: DCP
  • US Distributor: Dada Films