In 2011, chef Eduardo Garcia went hiking alone in the Montana wilderness. Happening upon a dead bear–and curious–he poked it with his knife and was immediately jolted with 2,400 volts of electricity from a nearby power line. He survived, and spent the following two months in ICU undergoing nearly two dozen surgeries, which included the amputation of his left hand and forearm. He also discovered he had stage 2 testicular cancer.
Months prior, Garcia had sabotaged a relationship with his girlfriend, Jennifer Jane, although she later became a partner in Garcia’s culinary enterprises. The two had begun working on a cooking show they were trying to develop with director Phillip Baribeau, who’d filmed the trailer for it. Then the accident happened, a week before they were scheduled to meet with the Food Network. Jane flew from England to be by Garcia’s side, and as his signatory, she began filming his recovery as a way to document his progress and keep Garcia occupied.
Meanwhile, Baribeau went on to film Unbranded (2015), a critically acclaimed documentary about wild mustangs, with producer Dennis Aig. When they were in the final stages of that, Baribeau and Aig began discussions with Garcia and Jane about turning Garcia’s experiences into a film. They folded most of the Unbranded production team into Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story, enabling them to release two feature documentaries in three years.
I recently spoke with longtime filmmaker, producer and Montana State professor Dennis Aig about the inspired result–a tale of survival, redemption and “finding your best self so you can live life fully charged.”
MAUITIME: What attracted you to this story?
DENNIS AIG: I think it was the dynamism of Eduardo and his recovery. How someone can be that injured and lose an arm and be in such bad shape, and then make a recovery where he not only returns to a lot of what he did before, but also reaches out to other people to try to help them get through their problems. And I considered him a friend.
Also, the relationship with Jen was very interesting. Both my parents died of cancer and I’d been very attuned to the whole caregiver part of that situation. My father died first, and then my sister became the caregiver to my mother because they were in New York and I was out here. So the fact that Jen–even though they’d ended their romantic relationship–had given so much of herself and her time to helping Eduardo, made it a very different kind of survival story. That’s why we wanted to make sure that Jen’s story was part of it, as well as Eduardo’s. Because in a lot of these stories, the caregiver or caregivers are very often forgotten or left out. And I think, at least from my own personal experience and from this one, it’s really the person and the caregiver or caregivers that are really important.
MT: Are you surprised by how the audience is responding to this film?
DA: When you do a film you get immersed in it. And we tested the film a lot with audiences. Basically we would get a group of different people from different age groups and different backgrounds, and we’d screen whatever cut we had at the time for them. What started to emerge is that different people were really relating their own stories to Ed and Jen’s, and also later when Ed’s father Manuel’s story was added to it, and that sort of encouraged us. People are engaging with the movie, and that’s really what you want them to do.
We were part of DocFest [earlier this month] in San Francisco. The second screening, I noticed there was a man sitting in the audience with sunglasses on. I didn’t think much of it, you know, it’s San Francisco. But during the Q&A, he raised his hand and said that he was losing his sight, and that someone had seen the film at the earlier screening and thought it would be an inspiration to him, and that he should see it while he still could. I was very moved by that. Here’s someone who’s in a very difficult situation, his life will be very changed, and our film is being looked to for help. That’s the kind of thing that really encourages you to make these films. I know it’s affected other people–but if it only affected him then to me that film was worthwhile.
MT: What role do documentaries play in today’s culture?
DA: There’s a lot of discussion with documentaries about impact. If you want to change the world, I’m not sure making a documentary is exactly the way to do it–you know, if you want to change it in a major way. On the other hand, the reactions that we got first on Unbranded, and now we’re getting to this, shows that a lot of change happens sometimes one person at a time and one movie at a time. While it’s always good to have large ambitions, I think slightly smaller ones or more localized ones can work as well.
Some documentaries try a little too hard to change the world. Sometimes you just have to change people.
Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story screens at the Maui Film Festival at 10pm on Thursday, June 22, at the Celestial Cinema in Wailea.
Photo of Edwardo Garcia courtesy Dennis Aig