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States of Grace: A Film on Dr. Grace Dammann


donate button Synopsis:

What happens to a person’s identity and reason for being when the circumstances of his/her life are suddenly and radically altered? How does one balance the gift of survival against the suffering that can come with it? What is it that ultimately gives meaning to a life?

Dr. Grace Dammann’s life was forever changed when a driver passed out at the wheel on the Golden Gate Bridge, crashing head-on into her car. While her daughter and dog suffered only minor injuries, Grace was air-lifted to a nearby trauma hospital where her life hung by a thread for many days in the ICU. After a seven-week coma, brain bleeds and numerous surgeries, Grace miraculously regained consciousness with her cognitive abilities almost entirely intact. But her body was left shattered and with severe disabilities.

Prior to the accident, Grace worked as a physician and co-founded the first HIV/AIDS clinic for poor people in San Francisco. She signed over 1,000 death certificates in the six-year period that marked the disease’s deadliest era and was honored by the Dalai Lama for her compassionate care. Though she is wheelchair-bound, she eventually musters the will and drive to return to work as a physician, designing and directing a cutting-edge pain clinic in the same public hospital where she worked prior to the accident.

From doctor to patient to doctor again, we trace Grace’s recovery and the unexpected journey of a family in the wake of a devastating crisis. We witness the resilience of both caregiver and care-receiver and the triumphs and setbacks along the way as Grace; her partner, Fu Schroeder; and daughter Sabrina reinvent their lives together.


About the Filmmakers

Helen S. Cohen (Producer/Director) was co-director of Women's Educational Media, now GroundSpark, a nonprofit organization specializing in the production and distribution of social issue documentaries. Helen was producer and executive producer of GroundSpark’s acclaimed Respect for All Project, including the award-winning films It’s Elementary (1996); That’s a Family! (2001); and Let’s Get Real (2004). Helen spearheaded the Project’s outreach and teacher-training program, which has been recognized nationally as a model for using film to affect progressive social change. For more information, see her biography at Open Studio Productions.

Mark Lipman (Producer/Director/Cinematographer/Editor) is the co-director/producer of Holding Ground and Gaining Ground, groundbreaking films about urban revitalization that have been used by thousands of organizations and universities as tools for training, education, and organizing. In an assessment of its grant making, the Ford Foundation recognized Holding Ground as one of its most successful films. For more information, see Mark’s biography at Open Studio Productions

Cohen and Lipman are currently making States of Grace, their first feature-length documentary together.

San Francisco Zen Center is the film's fiscal sponsor. Grace Dammann and Fu Schroeder are longtime residents of Green Gulch.