09/12/2011 06:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Artist's Urge to Proselytize

After his incredible success on Broadway with Milk and Honey (1961), Hello, Dolly! (1964) and Mame (1966), composer/lyricist Jerry Herman turned his attention to a pet project: adapting Jean Giradoux's 1945 satire, The Madwoman of Chaillot, for the musical stage. When I attended the first preview of Dear World at Boston's Colonial Theater, the show was an absolute mess. When we spoke in her dressing room after that performance, Angela Lansbury was quick to apologize for the fact that the show simply wasn't ready for public consumption.

By the time Dear World lumbered onto Broadway in February of 1969, the show was much better but still quite problematic. Although Lansbury would win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for a characterization that became a theatrical legend, the show never quite caught on.

In many ways, Dear World was out of sync with the moment. Its relevance to the corporate greed and political corruption plaguing today's world is staggering. The lyrics for the show's eleven o'clock number are as follows:

"One person can beat a drum
And make enough noise for ten.
One person can blow a horn.
And that little boom and that little blare
Can make a hundred others care.

And one person can hold a torch.
And light up the sky again.
And one little voice
That's squeaking a song
Can make a million voices strong.
If one person can beat a drum.
And one person can blow a horn.
If one person can hold a torch.
Then one person can change the world."

Three decades later, Stephen Schwartz wrote a song for Wicked that could well be used to thank documentarians for helping to spread the word about important causes. In the following clip, Kristin Chenoweth (who was the show's original Glinda) sings "For Good."

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Many sisters share fascinating histories. Few, however, are as amazing as the one shared by Anabel Stenzel and Isabel Stenzel Byrnes, Japanese-German twins who were born in Los Angeles in 1972 and diagnosed with cystic fibrosis on their third day of life. Not only have the twins undergone double lung transplants, now that they no longer have to struggle to breathe, they have found a new and meaningful role in life.

During their childhood hospital stays, the twins started keeping a diary about what it meant to live with a fatal disease. Published in 2007, their memoir not only describes summer excursions to a cystic fibrosis camp (where children with CF can feel normal), it also offers inspiration to families currently battling cystic fibrosis

In addition to being able to enjoy life to its fullest now that they can breathe like normal people, the twins have become global advocates for organ donation (without which neither one would still be alive). A major part of Mark Smolowitz's film, The Power of Two, is devoted to their advocacy in Japan's medical and cystic fibrosis communities to stress the need for people to fill out organ donor cards (despite an excellent healthcare system, the number of organ transplants in Japan is astonishingly low due to complex cultural issues).

What becomes obvious throughout the documentary is that, because of their intense personal experience (coupled with their impressive scientific credentials), the twins have become extremely articulate advocates. Both women received Bachelor of Science degrees in human biology at Stanford University and did their postgraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley. Isabel earned two master's degrees (one in public health in epidemiology and biostatistics as well as another in social welfare with a special focus on health) while Anabel earned her master's degree in genetic counseling.

Not only are the twins living proof of how potential donors can make a difference in the world, several segments of the film show them interacting with the families of the donors who gave them their new sets of lungs. Throughout the documentary, they stress how valuable and important it is for donor recipients to stay in touch with their donor families. In his director/producer's statement, Smolowitz writes:

When I read The Power Of Two - A Twin Triumph Over Cystic Fibrosis, I was moved by the way Anabel Stenzel and Isabel Stenzel Byrnes write so eloquently about their experiences with chronic illness. My big takeaway from their memoir was that we all have a stake in global conversations about public health, organ donation, and transplant, and we can all find a space in our lives for community and advocacy of social causes. From there, it made perfect sense that a feature documentary inspired by their lives would be a natural evolution for this story. As I began the filmmaking process, I quickly fell in love with Ana and Isa, both as people and as characters. Over time, we developed a powerful three-way trust in all aspects of this storytelling collaboration. I see Ana and Isa as both ordinary and extraordinary women, which reminds us that we often see such humbling and familiar contrasts in our own lives. As such, they are entirely approachable, yet somehow also bigger than life.

Ultimately, it is their twin bond that resonates onscreen with immense power -- the kind that transcends boundaries of culture, race and nation. In bringing their stories to screen, I have had the great pleasure of following them across two countries and 27 cities, and now, I look forward to sharing their stories of survival with the world. I am quite sure that audiences will embrace them with the same openness and excitement that they themselves bring to every day. For me, it truly has been an honor to make this film -- a highlight of my life and career -- and I have learned so much about what it means to opt in for being an advocate for something bigger than myself.

The Power of Two is an intensely personal documentary which manages to be highly inspirational and educational without ever becoming maudlin. Here's the trailer.

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In his recent editorial in The New York Times entitled "The Question-Driven Life," columnist David Brooks wrote about his encounter with Philip Leakey, a man he describes as "gripped with some sort of compulsive curiosity." Perhaps the best way to prepare yourself for viewing Tiffany Shlain's new film, Connected: An Autobiography About Love, Death, and Technology, is to watch her commencement speech to the 2010 graduating class of the University of California at Berkeley.

This article was cross-posted on My Cultural Landscape. To continue reading, click here.

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape