As someone who is well past my own life expectancy, it's perhaps not surprising that I would resonate so deeply with Chris Haigh's directorial debut Song for Hope: The Ryan Anthony Story, a powerful and inspirational feature doc about world renowned trumpeter Ryan Anthony and the remarkable life that he lived before and after his diagnosis with multiple myeloma at the age of 42.
The real reason, however, that I resonate deeply with Song for Hope is not because of illness but because of the creativity, passion, love, and sense of life with which Anthony lived his life and how these things fueled his remarkable survival for years beyond his expected prognosis for survival of a few months.
For Ryan, his diagnosis of multiple myeloma fueled a deepened commitment toward his music in a life in which he'd already become a trumpet virtuoso. While many would consider a diagnosis of multiple myeloma to be a crushing blow, for Ryan Anthony it was the beginning of a call to start a charity to become known as CancerBlows that would gather many of the world's most famous trumpeters in not one but two internationally acclaimed concerts. To date, CancerBlows has raised over $3 million for cancer research and the organization continues to be led by Ryan's wife Niki, whose work prior to CancerBlows as Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Ericson Group Inc. had her playing key roles in the event promotion and management for some of contemporary music's biggest names.
Song for Hope is inherently inspirational, a powerful documentary about one man's determination to live, make music, and help others for as long as he possibly could and a film that beautifully captures just how contagious that spirit became in inspiring a global movement. At one point, Ryan was even joined by his oncologist Dr. Brian Berryman in climbing Mt. Fuji, one of several scenes in the film likely to inspire both awe and a few tears.
Haigh's work here is in many ways straightforward in terms of documentary filmmaking. He introduces us to Ryan's early years including a friendship with Gary Beard that would change his personal and professional life. His family, including children Lili and Rowan, are featured throughout the film while even the legendary Doc Severinsen is here as a more familiar face.
While there may be a certain amount of formula within Song for Hope's 80-minute running time, formulas exist for a reason and in this case it's because it simply works. Ryan Anthony is a charismatic man here, a man for whom belief was important as he believed with every fiber of his being that it fueled his survival and his ability to help others along the way. Haig began working with Ryan on this documentary three years into his diagnosis, well past his original prognosis and yet it's clear that Ryan was continuing to maintain his love for his music and the circle that surrounded him. The film's original score is magnificent and brought vividly to life by the 60-piece Seattle Symphony in 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound. Indeed, this is a film that deserves its time on the big screen and even at home is best experienced with a quality sound system.
There are, of course, so many other things I could tell you about Songs for Hope. However, it's a film that benefits from simply surrendering to its music and the awesome spirit of Ryan Anthony and his many friends, family, and collaborators. Still in the midst of its festival run, the documentary has already picked up several awards and seems destined to pick up a few more before its journey is done. If there's any justice in the world, a distribution deal will follow.
While Song for Hope acknowledges Ryan's challenges and doesn't minimize the impact of living with multiple myeloma, I can't help but think Ryan would be most proud of the fact that this documentary based on his incredible life is so completely filled with creative, heart, and a relentless embrace of life.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic