Texas Tech University

KTTZ Augments National Cancer Documentary with Local Touch

Emily Gardner

March 26, 2015

The television station won a grant to showcase local cancer stories.


It started with an opportunity to create local content related to Ken Burns' nationwide documentary, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.”  It turned into “Life. Hope. Courage: Stories of Cancer,” a documentary chronicling people of the South Plains' cancer journeys created by Texas Tech University System Public Broadcasting.

Robert Giovannetti, managing director of KTTZ, and Paul Hunton, production director of KTTZ, crafted the application for the grant provided by the Washington PBS station, WETA, that asked for local stations to create programming related to Burns' documentary. The grant was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The KTTZ documentary premiered Tuesday (March 24) and was followed by a sneak preview of Burns' documentary.

KTTZ Cancer Screening Event Promo from KTTZ-TV 5, PBS on Vimeo.

“The finished product is very powerful and moving,” Giovannetti said. “We've all been touched in some way by cancer and to watch the stories of these survivors is extremely meaningful. You are left realizing we can win this fight against cancer, and these people are walking proof. It's a very uplifting program.”

Hunton said the application process took about three months: one or two writing the grant, and a month to find out whether the application was accepted. Pre-production for the documentary began in October and shooting began in January. The documentary featured members of Texas Tech in the College of Media & Communication, Health Sciences Center, Lubbock and South Plains communities, including Todd Chambers, associate dean for undergraduate affairs, and Kathy Oaks, senior market manager for Community Engagement at the Lubbock location of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Hunton said creation of the documentary was a team effort, involving everyone at the station from the underwriting team to the marketing and production teams. Giovannetti was the executive producer of the documentary, Hunton wrote and directed it and Regan Doyal was assistant director.

Life. Hope. Courage:Stories of Cancer Trailer from KTTZ-TV 5, PBS on Vimeo.

“When you watch the documentary you get a very real sense of what our station can contribute to our community,” Giovannetti said. “Part of our mission is to educate, innovate and inspire. Our local program accomplishes these collective goals. We were able to put faces to real life stories about not only how cancer has impacted our community but also explore those dedicated professionals who are working to end cancer. Programs like this are what we should be doing as a public television station.”

Chambers, who is 10 years from diagnosis and treatment for Stage VI Squamous Cell Carcinoma, said he was happy to help Hunton and Giovannetti with the documentary. Chambers, along with his wife, Barbie, and his two daughters, were interviewed for the project.

For Chambers, the documentary serves as a way to encourage people not to become complacent. He said there is a need for more prevention, research and knowledge of cancer, citing American Cancer Society statistics stating that 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer and about 600,000 people will die because of cancer in 2015.

“For me, the documentary means another step in changing the way we think about cancer, its treatment and the hope that comes from knowing more,” Chambers said. “Ten years ago, I felt I was getting the best treatment around. Because of research and knowledge, the treatments I had have been improved.

Stories of Cancer - Todd Chambers: Hope from KTTZ-TV 5, PBS on Vimeo.

“My hope is that this documentary reignites the conversation about cancer and what is needed to get us to the point where it doesn't exist anymore. I want my daughters to live in a world where no one ever has to hear the words ‘I'm sorry but you have cancer again.” 

Oaks' role in the documentary was a little different. She helped coordinate the stories of community members in the film and provided background information as reference material for the film. She also helped KTTZ gain access to local programs, events and partnerships in the community, including Hope Lodge.

The ACS also is a sponsor of the documentary “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.” Oaks read the book of the same name a couple years ago and said it opened her eyes, both personally and professionally, to the ways cancer is fought.

The documentary also resonates personally with Oaks, who lost her mother-in-law to cancer four months ago.

“When Paul Hunton asked for our help, I jumped in with both feet,” Oaks said. “I have so many friends and loved ones who have battled cancer, and I just think it is so important to show the faces of cancer in our community. We have made and are making such progress in the fight against cancer, but I truly believe it will take an army of donors, volunteers, researchers and supporters for us to finish the fight once and for all.”

“Life. Hope. Courage: Stories of Cancer” will air twice more, once at 7:30 p.m. tonight (March 26) and again at 7:30 p.m. April 2. Both will be aired on Channel 5 and kttz.org.