By Eleni Sakellis.
NEW YORK – The world premiere of Greek-American filmmaker Drew Xanthopoulos’ documentary film The Sensitives took place on Thursday, April 20, at the Tribeca Film Festival. The well-attended screening was held at Cinepolis Chelsea in Manhattan. The film is a powerful journey following the lives of people who suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), sensitivities to chemicals and electromagnetic fields given off by electrical devices and appliances. At the core of the film is the struggle of the individuals and their families to cope with this devastating and isolating affliction.
As noted in the film’s description, “For the increasing number of people who are suffering from environmental illnesses, the world around them is full of unseen threats. What the average person would never notice can render their bodies painfully seized and their minds dulled for days. Pesticides, perfumes, cell phones—any of these can send the afflicted into a debilitating downward spiral.”
Xanthopoulos is best known as a cinematographer and the beautiful images in the film are a testament to his extraordinary talent as the filmmaker in this documentary, his cinematic feature debut. The Sensitives introduces the audience to three families struggling to cope with their particular forms of the illness.
Joe, too sick to care for himself, relies on his supportive, but increasingly exhausted wife Lainie. Twin brothers Sam and Nathan live with their mother, Karen, in a sterilized safe home they haven’t left in years and dream of performing the country music they write together. Susie, who left San Francisco for a remote Arizona homestead decades ago, has found an uneasy equilibrium, but grows frustrated at the lack of attention paid to her condition in medical discourse. This painfully intimate documentary portrait follows the trials of these three groups grappling with a crippling illness for which there is as yet no agreed upon diagnosis or treatment. Isolation, companionship, and hope are the common bonds these people share. The film’s message in shedding light on this little known or understood subject is hopeful.
A Q&A session with the filmmakers followed the screening and Xanthopoulos answered questions about the film from the enthusiastic audience. He explained that the idea for the film came from photographs he had seen in the New York Times by Thilde Jensen a Danish photographer who developed severe environmental illness. She photographed a subculture of people also suffering from the illness and living in isolation in the American Southwest. Jensen invited Xanthopoulos on shoots and introduced him to others with sensitivities.
Xanthopoulos said that he had met dozens of people before he decided who to follow in the documentary. The filming process was difficult because, he pointed out, he could not get very close since the camera could trigger symptoms in the people he was filming. Lainie, Joe’s wife who appeared in the film, was also present at the screening and Xanthopoulos invited her up to answer questions from the audience as well. She gave an update on her husband’s condition, saying that “Joe is better.” They can get coffee again and go to dinner with their kids and grandkids, things they had not been able to do for 4 or 5 years when Joe’s condition had been worse, Lainie said. They have found a new normal, she added.
The Sensitives raises awareness of this condition that likely affects millions of people who are not even aware that the environment, chemicals, and electromagnetic fields may be contributing or even causing their physical illness. More information is available online at
The Second Public Screening of The Sensitives takes place on Saturday, April 22 at 6:45 PM at Cinepolis Chelsea 2; the Third Public Screening on Sunday, April 23 at 3:15 PM at Cinepolis Chelsea 5; and the Fourth Public Screening on Wednesday, April 26 at 8:30 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park 11-4.