Member Profile: Bessie Sze Seiler

p.3 bottomFrom left to right: Sam Rubel, Theo Frorer, Bessie, Michael Bickford, Dr. Jin-Ke Weng, and Steve Seiler.

Four years ago, NewTV member Bessie Seiler completed a life-long dream of making a film. Bessie joined NewTV in 2013 and produced her first documentary, Ted Steinman: A Battalion Surgeon’s Story of the Vietnam War, which told the story of a medical school graduate’s journey during the Vietnam War.

After achieving that goal, Bessie, who comes from a financial background and once worked on Wall Street, made a second documentary, A Wing Chun Journey to the Heart. Now, she has just finished her third: The Science Behind Traditional Chinese Medicine, a documentary which focuses on demystifying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a 3,000-year-old branch of medicine.

Bessie was inspired to start working on the project after own personal experience with TCM. After dealing with dry eyes, her mother recommended that she see a Traditional Chinese doctor. Bessie was skeptical at first, but she says the treatment she received, which involved drinking an herbal solution, cured her dry eyes in days.

Her documentary focuses on removing some of the stigma around TCM and showing how the practice involves extensive research and history. One of the unique aspects of TCM is how it focuses on the whole body rather than just one affected area. As Bessie describes it, TCM doctors “look at the whole forest, not just a single tree.”

IMG 1356Ajani Otieno-Rudek, a student who composed music for the documentary.

The documentary, which will run 59 minutes, features two parts; part one is focused completely on the history of TCM, while part two is focused on science. Bessie’s primary source is Dr. Jing-Ke Weng, an Associate Professor of Biology at MIT who is also a faculty member at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Dr. Weng has been an invaluable resource for the project, even allowing her to film inside his lab at Whitehead where he conducts research. Dr. Weng does not practice TCM himself but rather searches for the active molecules in the plants that are used in TCM and other plant-based traditional medicines. Through this, he has been able to help explain the science behind their effectiveness.

Bessie said one of the best aspects of working on her documentary is getting to collaborate with others. Theo Frorer, Sam Rubel, Michael Bickford, Holden Kodish, and Brian Ives are all students who have helped her with the filming and editing process. Ajani Otieno-Rudek, a student at Skidmore, is composing original music for the film. Because of all the help she has received from these student volunteers, Bessie refers to the documentary as a group effort. “I never say it’s my project,” she said. “It’s our project.” Her husband, Steve Seiler, also helped with interviewing.

The NewTV staff has gotten involved as well. Bessie credits former member services coordinator, Michael Sills, with encouraging her to take up filmmaking in the first place. Current members of the staff have provided voiceover for the documentary. Jenn Adams, Steve Russo, and Andrew Eldridge can all be heard during the introduction, and Bessie also credits Jenn with giving her great advice on how to prepare for interviews.

Bessie and the team have recently finished the documentary. She is hopeful that the documentary will help facilitate conversation about TCM and remove some of the mystery and stigma surrounding the practice. Watch the film here.