Published January 6, 2020

By Nora Pehrson

Humanities’ Power to Heal is a film and writing project capturing the transformational and healing power of writing for women diagnosed with cancer.

Filmmaker Betsy Cox and Poet/Professor/Survivor Charlotte Matthews created Whistle Words.
Filmmaker Betsy Cox (left) and Poet/Professor/Survivor Charlotte Matthews (right) created Whistle Words.

A recent Virginia Humanities grant supported production of this short film documenting workshops offered by the Charlottesville-based organization Whistle Words. During the workshops, women with cancer explore their past, present, and future with the simple aid of a pen.

The film will be provided to medical humanities programs as an educational resource on the healing power of personal narratives and will serve as a launch pad for a feature length documentary film.

We recently caught up with Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Betsy Cox to talk about the project.

Why is your project important?

No film exists providing an intimate first-person look at the transformative power of the humanities in times of illness. Medical humanities programs are growing in the United States, and Humanities’ Power to Heal will help future medical providers understand the importance of personal narratives for those confronting a life changing illness.

How did you get involved in this work?

The project was created by myself and Poet/UVA Professor Charlotte Matthews. It was inspired by Charlotte’s experience with the power of writing during her own cancer journey. I have a real passion for women’s issues and saw that capturing and sharing this process would exponentially expand the project’s reach.

How is your project making a difference?

More than 150 women have participated in the writing workshops, with fifty of those participating in the filming of Humanities’ Power to Heal. The creation and distribution of the short film will share the impact on their lives with future medical providers, illuminating the need for healing intervention beyond traditional medicine. We believe this is the future of compassionate, effective, and holistic care.

What drew you to Virginia Humanities? Why did you apply here?

We were drawn to Virginia Humanities as a hometown resource with a personal approach and large scale reach. Both of us are graduates of the University of Virginia, and Charlotte currently teaches there. As the field of medical humanities is relatively new, we believed partnering with Virginia Humanities would serve to not only make our short film possible, but also illuminate this “non-traditional” humanities approach. We are grateful that Virginia Humanities agreed!

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Our work brings people together and honors our shared humanity.