Winner 2008

Independent Lens: Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita

Kartemquin Educational Films, Independent Television Service (ITVS)

In Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita, filmmaker Maria Finitzo puts a human face on a polarizing, highly politicized subject, stem-cell research. Her documentary focuses on Dr. Jack Kessler, a Northwestern University neurologist, who becomes obsessed with finding a method to repair damaged spinal cords after his beloved daughter, Allison, is left paralyzed from the waist down by a skiing accident. We see the intelligence, intense focus and patience that Kessler and his hand-picked research team bring to their laboratory research and the passion he brings to his attempts to educate people through newspaper editorials and speaking engagements. His staunch advocacy is never in question—he believes stem-cell biology is going to “revolutionize medicine”—but Finitzo is also sensitive to religious and ethical objections, giving Christians, Jews and Muslims their say as well. Kessler’s daughter, meanwhile, with her upbeat attitude and refusal to put her life on hold, emerges as a formidable figure herself. For compelling human drama that doesn’t sacrifice scientific detail or ethical complexity, Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita, an Independent Lens presentation, receives a Peabody Award.


Executive producers: Gordon Quinn, Sally Jo Fifer (ITVS). Producer, Director, Writer: Maria Finitzo. Associate producer: Justine Nagan. Directors of photography: Jim Morrissette, Ines Sommer. Editors: Michael O’Brien, David E. Simpson, Janet Sutcliffe.