Electric Premiere for Cancer Doc 'The C Word'

Meghan O'Hara celebrated the screening of her documentary "The C Word" with her family, from left, John, Rohan, and Ben Sasso. Morgan McGivern

There was a brief power outage Friday night during the world premiere screening of "The C Word," after which a Hamptons International Film Festival official popped in at the East Hampton Cinema to let everyone know there was no need to panic despite the fact that the theater may have been hit by a bolt of lightning during a particularly rough storm.

It was not long before Meghan O'Hara, the director of "The C Word," a documentary about fighting cancer, began using that lightning strike in a play on words to describe her film's premiere. 

"It was a great night. It felt really, really electric," she said on Sunday. "The crowd was really engaged. . . . I think lightning struck for us in a good way."

Ms. O'Hara, who lives with her family in Rockville Centre but spends a fair amount of time in Montauk with the family of her husband, John Sasso, isn't just the director of "The C Word." She is also one of its subjects, having survived Stage 3 breast cancer, a diagnosis she received about seven years ago at the age of 38.

Having worked with Michael Moore on documentaries such as "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Sicko," and "Bowling for Columbine," Ms. O'Hara said the making of the "The C Word" was both therapeutic and inspirational. Her illness was the catalyst for its creation and the vehicle through which she met another one of the film's subjects, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, the French physician who wrote the book "Anticancer: A New Way of Life" and developed a method for reducing the risk of getting cancer.

"We tried really hard to make a rock 'n' roll documentary," she said.

The film itself begins with a simple black screen, the backdrop for a sound that was immediately jarring: whispered, staccato words, clearly the words of someone who needed to deliver one final message, no matter how much effort it took.

That message can be summed up as follows: "The way we live influences the way we die."

"The C Word" is narrated by Morgan Freeman, also the film's executive producer, whose voice can only be described as epic and timeless. The film also features clever original animations and taps popular cartoons, such as "Family Guy" and "South Park," to illustrate its points.

During the post-film discussion, Lori McCreary, another of the producers, explained the use of animation by saying "those cancer cells were so important for us to visualize."

Ms. O'Hara and Dr. Servan-Schreiber worked together to make a documentary not just about their own stories, but also about his research, which was drawn from existing medical literature. His method has not been without criticism, largely because it was untested by modern medical standards, but a clinical trial is currently under way to evaluate his ideas. Those ideas boil down to four factors — diet, exercise, stress management, and toxin avoidance — that he felt would decrease the chances that someone could be diagnosed with cancer.

"The C Word" also takes on related groups in American society, such as the tobacco industry and the National Restaurant Association, that have been known to point people in the direction of unhealthy habits such as smoking and eating too much highly processed food.

Over the last few years it has been suggested that Long Island is a kind of hot spot for cancer. During the festival, the documentary resonated with a few filmgoers who are cancer survivors, who raised their hands during the question-and-answer session to reflect on the film they had just seen — and to thank Ms. O'Hara for making it. 

Asked what people need to know about "The C Word," Ms. O'Hara knew right away the message she wanted to get out. "I would like people to know that it's unexpected, that there are revelations in here that people should be talking about but nobody seems to know," she said, "and that there's a great, powerful, powerful narrative at the heart of this film that really pulls you in."