"The Lion's Mouth Opens" at UI screening to over 400 attendees

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


TLMO Crowd shot
A full house saw the UI HDSA COE's Jan. 29 screening of "The Lion's Mouth Opens" in 
the Pappajohn Business Building on the UI campus. 


More than 400 people sat in the UI’s Pappajohn Business Building auditorium, many in awed silence. Some were still wiping away tears. Others had a look on their face that indicated they had just experienced something impactful, something powerful and meaningful.

Following the UI HDSA Center of Excellence's Jan. 29 screening of “The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” more than 400 people left that auditorium having learned a lot about Huntington disease (HD) and medical fate through the courage of actress and filmmaker Marianna Palka, whose story of finding out her genetic testing results for the genetic mutation that causes HD is told in the documentary.

Though hopeful for a large turnout, UI HDSA COE Public Relations Coordinator Sean Thompson was pleasantly surprised by the size of the audience. 

“So much HD awareness was raised through the showing of this film,” Thompson said. “People were really excited to see it, and there were people from all different backgrounds there, many of whom had never heard of HD. Health science students, film students, Greek Life students, other students, and other community members, as well as HD family members.”

The screening came about thanks to a direct relationship established between the UI HDSA COE and Lucy Walker, the two-time Academy Award nominated director of “The Lion’s Mouth Opens.” Thompson and HDSA Iowa Chapter Vice President Jamie Parish met Walker at a screening of the film at the University of Northern Iowa in September of 2014. Walker told them she and Palka wanted to utilize the film and its powerful message to raise as much HD awareness as possible. 

“Lucy is both an amazing director and wonderful person,” Thompson said. “We brainstormed with her for two hours in the hallway at UNI, figuring out ways we could work together to use the film to help HD families through raising awareness. She’s so genuine in wanting to do that, and it shows by how dedicated she is to sharing Marianna’s story through this film.”

The film had yet to be widely released, showing mostly at film festivals and small screenings, but Walker was more than willing to have the film shown at the UI when Thompson and Parish expressed interest in doing so. 

Panel Amanda 
UI HDSA COE Social Worker Amanda Miller answers a 
question from the audience during the post-screening Q&A.

“It’s such a good film, we knew it would be great to show for HD awareness, and it’s a rare opportunity to see an award-winning film like this before its national release,” said UI HDSA COE Research Assistant Jolene Luther, another of the screening organizers. “For all those reasons, it was a win all around to be able to provide this opportunity for people on the UI campus.” 

After the 28-minute film concluded, a panel of UI HDSA COE clinicians, researchers, family members and genetic counselors took insightful questions from the audience. To conclude the event, Luther told attendees about the HD Parity Act, a piece of federal legislation that would update outdated guidelines about HD and waive a two-year waiting period, both of which account for delays and denials of much-needed Medicare and Social Security benefits for those with HD. To take action on the HD Parity Act, visitwww.hdsa.org/takeaction.

“I would bet most people left the screening and either took a few minutes to send an email to their legislator, looked up more information about HD or just told one other person about what they saw that night,” Thompson said. “Thanks to Lucy and Marianna’s film, huge strides were made for HD awareness.” 



UI Cinematic Arts “Intro to Screenwriting: Short Form” instructor Anna Swanson incorporated the screening and the film in to her class. To aide in the discussion, Walker provided insight into her screenwriting process for a short documentary, most of which Walker said takes place during the editing process, making sure viewers got a strong narrative of what these two days in Palka’s life were like for her and her loved ones.


The UI HDSA COE partnered with UI Fraternity and Sorority Life to offer educational credit for members who attended the screening. A total of 254 FSL chapter members saw the film, and UI HDSA COE staff received feedback from members that it was the best educational event they had been to on campus.


Handing out cards 
UI HDSA COE Research Assistant Jolene Luther hands out HD 
information and advocacy cards as attendees arrive for "The 
Lion's Mouth Opens" screening.