Doctor-turned-patient Grace Damman was grievously injured in a head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge in 2008. After being in a coma for a month and a half and enduring nine surgeries, she was sufficiently recovered to leave the hospital. The choice facing documentary filmmakers Helen S. Cohen and Mark Lipman was to jump or miss the boat.
“It was kind of the last moment we could start this film and make it work, because Grace was coming home from a year in rehab hospitals,” Lipman recalls. “I’m not sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We expected that something fascinating would unfold. We had no idea what it would look like.”
That uncertainty, Cohen says, “was both daunting and the most compelling part of making a film like this. Following the story and not knowing what was gong to happen. We were witnessing; we didn’t know where we were going. We expected it to be easier [than it was] because the whole first year after the accident, Grace was in a euphoric place about her life. We didn’t think [her long-term recovery] would be a walk in the park, but filming Grace going through the difficult, dark process was incredibly challenging.”
States of Grace intimately and sensitively portrays Damman’s arduous transition from top-drawer caregiver to dependent care-recipient (with the lingering possibility of regaining her original ability and status). Her partner, Fu Schroeder, and their adopted (and now teenage) daughter, Sabrina, carry the brunt of the weight, which transforms the film into an unflinching study of the bonds and frustrations of human relationships under exceptional stress.
The family lives at the picturesque Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Muir Beach, and the Buddhist vibe and setting infuses the film with a distinct Northern California flavor. Yet States of Grace, which screens this week at venues around the Bay Area after premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October, speaks eloquently to viewers whose visceral identification with Grace and Fu’s predicament trumps any geographical, religious, social and sexual differences.