Bluegrass musician Greg Garing once played with every Nashville superstar, but now can't afford medical treatments that could save his life.

Although Greg Garing played with the greats in his 20s and had a critically acclaimed solo country music album in 1997, years of illness and misdiagnoses appear to have left him broke and in a fragile state. Seen boxing up his own CDs in his musical instrument-filled Brooklyn apartment, a gaunt Garing, now 43, reminisces about his youthful glory days in a barely audible voice, punctuated by labored breathing.

This video, produced by Emily Branham for the International Documentary Challenge, gradually reveals that the source of Garing’s health problems is not the typical ravages of a show business lifestyle that the viewer expects, but exposure to heavy metals and other toxins when he was growing up near polluted Lake Erie. Tragically, he can’t afford the cure, estimated to be $10,000.

Frequent close-ups of Garing’s haunted-looking face, and small moments such as watching him steam his cowboy hat over a pot on the stove, give the piece and intimate feel. The ambient lighting and rough texture of the video set a melancholy tone. Although Garing is so weak that he’s falling down in his own kitchen, he somehow musters the strength to get himself and his guitar to a nightclub for a gig, where he transforms into another, animated person on stage. “I’m a fighter,” he says about his illness, “but it’s kind of winning.”

This video was a finalist for the 2010 International Documentary Challenge, and won the Jury Prize for Best Film and the Best Use of the Character Study Genre.

Length: 7:57

Emily Branham, Director/Producer