Katie Sweeney, far left in green dress, wants to commemorate her mother, far right in green dress, and help others struggling with cancer by creating a film about her mom, who died of ovarian cancer seven years ago.
A former Burlingame High School student is taking an idea from her high school English class and launching a Kickstarter to create a film that tells her late mother’s life story and helps others cope with terminal illness.
Katie Sweeney, 19, now a sophomore at University of California at Santa Cruz, wants to raise $18,000 through the online funding platform to create a documentary about her mother who died of ovarian cancer seven years ago. “Paula TV — Cancer Killed Mom ... But Her Show Must Go On” grew out of an end-of-the-year project she did for Jim Burke’s Advanced Placement English literature class senior year at Burlingame High School. He asked students to choose three books of similar theme and do a project.
“At first I was doing something on law, then I found a book my mom left and journals and changed the project to focus in on my mom,” she said. “I did a big video project and read some of mom’s writing to class.”
Now, she wants to take these journals, along with photos, song lyrics, letters and videos of her mother, Paula Saed-Sweeney, to create a piece that can inspire others to stay hopeful during tough times. She and her family would also interview co-workers, neighbors, coaches, teachers, shopkeepers, doctors, therapists and others who knew Saed-Sweeney. She also recently won $10,000 from Livestrong to start a chapter of the college student run summer camp for kids with a parent who has, or has had, cancer called Camp Kesem at UC Santa Cruz.
“For me, it’s very personal,” she said. “I’ve gone a long time without my mom. These past years, I’ve been thinking about her a lot and made choices I don’t agree with and Camp Kesem flipped everything. I’m hoping to reach families, and people battling cancer, to help them keep faith and hope.”
Sweeney said her mother had spirit she hadn’t seen in anyone else and she wants to help tell the story of a woman who led a very interesting life. Saed-Sweeney went to University of California at Berkeley where she studied theater and acted in street performances, she said. She then was involved in astronomy in New Orleans and then hosted a radio talk show. Additionally, she tried to open a restaurant on food stamps in Truckee. She then settled down in the Bay Area as a stay-at-home mom and substitute teacher.
“She lived a very scrappy life,” Sweeney said. “She was 43 when she had me. She had four kids with three different partners, so all those stories are insane.”
The Camp Kesem grant is really important to Sweeney now and helped spark her idea to move forward with a video project.
“Basically my mom told me when I was 9 that I should either try to get into Stanford (University) and be a counselor or create my own chapter,” she said. “I had the idea floating in my head that I needed to be part of the camp. I called my dad crying with tears of joy when found out I got the grant.”
Now, she’s gone to Kickstarter to raise funds for the documentary. She said she chose Kickstarter because she saw people could generate a lot more than their target amount there. A more realistic goal would be $180,000, but she felt like aiming for a lower number at first is a good idea, she said. At press time, there were 45 backers and $7,879 pledged. There’s a $1 pledge minimum.
The Kickstarter project will only be funded if at least $18,000 is pledged by 11:43 p.m. EST Jan. 22. You can donate at kickstarter.com/projects/2113537742/paula-tv-cancer-killed-mom-but-her-show-must-go-on?ref=live or by searching Paula TV on Kickstarter’s site. You can also contribute to the first ever week Camp Kesem for UC Santa Cruz at Camp Jones Gulch this coming summer at campkesem.givebig.org/c/CK13/a/campkesem-uc-santa-cruz/p/Katie-Sweeney.
Sweeney and her family hope to complete the editing process for the film by December 2014 and her father, Skip Sweeney, will be doing much of the video work.
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