True story "Decoding Annie Parker" is a low-budget crowdpleaser that is rough around the edges but sticks with you. It opens Friday.
Rookie director Steven Bernstein's breast cancer saga stars Helen Hunt as famed geneticist Mary-Claire King, who painstakingly tracked down the BRCA-1 genetic marker for breast cancer, and Samantha Morton in the title role of a woman who is convinced that breast cancer runs in families, which won her Best Actress at the last year's Seattle International Film Festival.
"Every 12 minutes someone dies of breast cancer," says King in the movie. The real life Parker has so far survived three rounds fighting cancer, and finally met Dr. King onstage at the Seattle Film Festival. "They cried and I cried," says Bernstein.
Bernstein left his career as a Hollywood cinematographer ("White Chicks," "Monster," "Like Water for Chocolate," "Scary Movie 2") and devoted seven years to financing, shooting and promoting the film, losing his house and giving up his back end in the process. (Don't try this at home.) He raised funding off his script, set a start date before casting the movie and wound up with a stellar ensemble: Hunt and Morton are supported by Aaron Paul, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Corey Stoll, Maggie Grace, Rashida Jones and Alice Eve.
Bernstein's passion quest has played well on the international festival circuit (winning the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Award at The Hamptons International Film Festival), where Bernstein has raised $3 million for breast cancer charities. (Unfortunately he lost his sister to cancer a few months ago.) "I've logged 90,000 miles and 31 cities," he says. "Important research still needs to be done."
Next up, Bernstein has written and pre-financed "Dominion," about the last West Village days of poet Dylan Thomas, as he drinks himself to death and explores memories of his past life. It was selling territories at November's AFM; Bernstein is casting and hopes to start filming this year.