A documentary film about cannabis in paediatric medicine
“To feel heard, to feel understood… that’s rare.”
- Sara, Levi’s mom
In Anything Can Happen, filmmaker Chase Gouthro creates a safe space for his subjects—paediatric cannabis patients and their families—to be heard and understood, without judgement. Gouthro’s storytelling is grounded in his genuine respect for the four families portrayed in the short documentary, giving each the dignity to share their journey from diagnosis and failed medical interventions, to anger, stigmatization and finally hope in the healing power of cannabis.
The film opens with The Hippocratic Oath, quoting the importance of “warmth, sympathy, and understanding.” Here Gouthro sets up sharp contrast between the crushing frustration felt by parents seeking effective solutions for their medically fragile children and the medical establishment’s refusal to explore controversial therapies like cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis.
The film cuts to a delicate soap bubble floating in the breeze and the voice of Dr. Jennifer Anderson reflecting on her role as physician. “Being a doctor is a very sacred thing. It allows you to participate in people’s lives at the times when they’re the most vulnerable,” she opines. The theme of vulnerability runs through the narrative thread of the film. The tenuous health of the young patients. The bravery of the parents sharing their fears and hopes. And the risks they have taken by embarking on a contentious—in some places illegal—treatment using cannabis.
Rising star Nicholas and his mother, Dr. Jennifer Anderson.
With the help of home videos, family photobooks and medical files, Gouthro details Dr. Anderson’s journey from the excitement of expecting twins to the stark reality that her son Nicholas, who suffers from cerebral palsy and intractable epilepsy, could very well die from his near-constant seizures. Frequent trips to the hospital where he was loaded up on antiseizure drugs, turned Nicholas into a zombie with no quality of life, and still his seizures raged on. “Even as a physician, I couldn’t do anything for my own son,” she admits.
As a last resort, Dr. Anderson tried cannabis, and it changed everything. On a Friday night, desperate and exhausted, she gave her son a single drop of CBD oil and the results were nearly miraculous. By Monday morning, the spark had returned to Nicholas’s eyes. From that point on, his seizures decreased significantly, he was able to sleep through the night, and he began to grow stronger and reengage with life. Nicholas’s extraordinary improvement completely changed her outlook on cannabinoids, and her career path. Whereas once sceptical of its value and uneasy with the potentially negative impact it could have on her professional reputation, Dr. Anderson, nonetheless, started treating other patients with CBD who had failed traditional medicines. The results were so startling and the availability of CBD therapy so limited, she chose to dedicate herself to the education of physicians and policymakers, and running a specialized CBD consultation practice.
Dr. Anderson's patients, clockwise: Levy, Emma, and Vincent.
The audience is introduced to three of Dr. Anderson’s young patients—Levi, Emma and Vincent and their families, all of whom we get to know better as the movie goes on and who contribute different perspectives to the narrative. The parents talk about their shared struggle with the medical establishment before finding Dr. Anderson. Vincent’s mom recalls, “I couldn’t find a doctor who would help us.” They discuss the unexpected benefits of CBD on their child’s health and their journeys of overcoming the stigma associated with cannabis, and finally the gratitude of having access to a medicine that really worked.
Anything Can Happen is an invitation to reconsider cannabis as medicine. For patients who have run out of options it can be a godsend. None of the families tout CBD as a panacea or cure, but are adamant that it has allowed their children to reach their true potential. Gouthro juxtaposes the parents’ fear for their children’s futures with the young patients’ fearlessness to move forward. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the kids refuse to give up, instead embracing life and striving for independence. As Zachary explains, speaking of his twin brother Nicholas, “He’s not afraid of anything. He’s capable of lots.” This sentiment is repeated as each patient finds relief with CBD: Levi no longer engages in self-harm; Emma is brighter; Vincent can finally concentrate; and Nicholas is unstoppable.
Nicholas enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood.
Gouthro’s observational style of filmmaking is as gentle and powerful as CBD itself. He immerses the viewer in the lives of his subjects, inviting us to pull up a seat—on the dock, on the couch, at the local park—and sit with the pain and frustration of the families who have felt powerless to help their children. Levi’s parents urge others to keep advocating: “It’s a hard fight sometimes but don’t give up. It is worth it.” Anything Can Happen is a film all parents need to see—for those with medically fragile children, it will restore hope; for the rest, it will foster understanding, which in itself can be remarkably healing.
Watch the trailer here:
Hope is not lost
An interview with Anything Can Happen director Chase Gouthro
Heads Lifestyle: Hi Chase. Thank you for making the time to chat with us about your new documentary Anything Can Happen. It’s making the rounds of the festival circuit right now, what has the reaction been so far?
Chase Gouthro: It's such a powerful story. People seem to be responding well to it, and as a filmmaker, you can't ask for much more than that.
HL: How did you first meet Dr. Anderson?
CG: That's a good example of the planets and universe aligning, serendipitously. Jen [Dr. Jennifer Anderson] and I were introduced through a mutual friend. I was actively looking for a project that I could really sink my teeth into, and my friend just had it in her head that she should introduce me to Jen. I don't know why and she doesn't even know why—she just thought that a connection needed to be made. So we all went for dinner in the fall of 2019. Jen told me her story and I was honestly just blown away by how far she had come—you know, just hearing the story from her perspective. But a great story doesn't necessarily make a great documentary. After that first meeting, I met her family and spent some time—without a camera or anything—at their cottage. After meeting Nicholas and his brother and sister, I knew that not only would this make a great documentary, but that I had to be the one to do it. I decided that this was my project.
HL: How did you come to documentary filmmaking? Can you tell us a little about your background?
CG: I grew up in a small town in Manitoba and from a young age knew that storytelling in some form of the other would be what I did. I started working in radio when I was in high school, and from there moved to Winnipeg for college and studied communications. That was when I decided visual media was what I enjoyed the most. Out of college, I got hired to work as a photojournalist and editor for CTV Winnipeg and then I started my own company [Bare Hand Films]. This documentary was the catalyst for me wanting to get out of news and move into longer form storytelling.
Chase and Nicholas, a bond of trust between filmmaker and subject.
HL: How did you select the families that were featured in the documentary?
CG: The families are all patients of Dr. Anderson. I discussed with Jen what we were looking for in terms of themes—each family experienced similar things, but I also wanted to show additional perspectives. One family brings the angle that the medical system isn't looking after patients 100%. The next one is that cannabis can help in ways that you might not even think. And then the last family was struggling with the stigma of cannabis and growing up with that message. So we discussed what themes we wanted and Jen contacted the families. Everything just lined up perfectly. Each family adds so much, and I couldn't imagine any of them not being in the film.
HL: Were you familiar with CBD before starting on this project?
CG: I think as much as anybody is nowadays. You hear a lot about it and since legalization in Canada, there are CBD dog treats and CBD bath bombs. But I didn’t realized how profound an effect it can have when applied in the right dosage and under medical guidance.
HL: What was your impression of these four incredible families?
CG: I'm so grateful to them for sharing things that are so personal, and very traumatic to relive. I'm sure it’s a parent's worst nightmare to have a child who is medically fragile. I'm very thankful for their trust, and entrusting me to share their story in such a public way. With the many obstacles that they've had to go through to get this treatment for their children, I think they all feel it just needs to be known that CBD is an option. Sometimes you have to advocate for your own kid, because the medical system isn't necessarily advocating for them.
The filmmaker capturing a candid moment of play with Levy and his family.
HL: What do you hope audiences will get out of seeing this film?
CG: I hope that when people watch the film that the journeys of the people who have been through this fight can influence their perspective on cannabis’s role in medicine, and specifically in paediatric medicine. I think we've come a long way in Canada with regards to considering the medical benefits of cannabis, but there’s still a stigma associated with it, especially with children. I really hope that people will see this documentary and either have their perspectives challenged a little bit, or have it reinforce what they already believe.
HL: Anything Can Happen was filmed during the pandemic. What effect did that have on how you made the film?
CG: This is kind of a funny personal story. Growing up I was really good friends and neighbours with my cousin [Adam Carroll]. And when I was about 10 years old, we used to make movies with his little Hi8 video recorder. We would make and edit them and play around. That was my first foray into filmmaking. Fast-forward all these years later and we're making this documentary. I was able to bring on my cousin as my second cameraperson so it was just Adam and I filming. So really it came full circle. The stories of the three families of Dr. Anderson's patients were all filmed during COVID; that was part of the reason why it took so long to get the documentary finished. We wanted to wait until the numbers were at a point that everyone was comfortable, and also that Adam and I had been vaccinated before asking to come into these folks’ homes, especially given the fact that a number of these kids are medically fragile. So we were a very small but very dedicated team. But it's good like that; I think keeping it small lends itself to making everyone a little bit more comfortable.
HL: How long did it take from beginning to end?
CG: From pre-production to finished film, it took just over two years. Aside from the regular challenges of documentary filmmaking and fundraising, the pandemic really put the brakes on it. But I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise, because now is the perfect time for this documentary to be coming out. The delays allowed us to sit with it and think about it, and it really shaped how the story evolved, how you see it now. So I'm very thankful that it ended up taking as long as it did. And documentary filmmaking, in the best of times, is a slow, slow process.
Nicholas trying his hand behind the camera.
HL: These families have been through so much hardship and yet you were able to spotlight the fact that these are kids just like any others—they have their own interests, hopes and goals. How did you go about putting your subjects at ease?
CG: You just try to ease into it a little bit and get to know the families first before you pull out a camera and start following them around with it. I spent some time getting to know the Anderson family and we filmed with them more than the other families. Nicholas loves the camera. But we only had one day to film with each of the patient families, so I tried to get as much information beforehand through Zoom calls. I introduced myself to the kids and asked them what were some of the things they were interested in. I think that really put them at ease and added to the final piece. For example, Levi showing me all of his Pokémon cards. That's something that was special to him, and it was special to be able to include it. I wasn't able to spend a whole lot of time with these families, but I'm really grateful for how generous they were with their stories, and how comfortable they were letting us into their homes.
HL: What reaction do you get from people when you tell them that your first documentary film is about paediatric cannabis?
CG: People are either excited or just very interested. It's a mix of interest and excitement. I keep getting asked, When can we see it? We have people from all over the country and all over the world that are interested in seeing this. I'm excited and eager to get it out more publicly, but strategically we're doing a slow rollout. I love talking about it, so, you know, I love having those conversations with people telling them about it.
HL: Can you tell us about the slow rollout?
GC: What we're doing now is bringing it to medical conferences, to audiences that are able to make change, but these are built in audiences. Getting it in front of an audience that is not necessarily a captive audience for this subject, an audience that is just there to see a film is important, too, because that's who really needs to see this film.
HL: Right. Absolutely.
CG: It's also neat to see it play alongside similar sorts of films. We're playing in the Yorkton Film Festival at the end of the month [May 26-29, 2022], which is North America's longest running film festival in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. As a filmmaker, it's a good barometer to gauge how it’s received.
Anything Can Happen is getting invitations to film festivals and winning prizes.
HL: What did you learn from making this documentary?
CG: As someone who doesn't have kids myself, the most profound thing that I took away from this experience was seeing how far a parent is willing to go for their kids. That was something that kept coming up with each of these families—the necessity to be their own child's advocate. They would stop at nothing to find something that would work for their kids. And I think that's the underlying message of the film: the profound love these families have for their kids.
HL: Yes, I loved Vincent’s parents’ comments when they said that Vincent is the best kid in the world with the best laugh and a contagious giggle. Where some people may pity them, they feel others are missing out if they don’t get to know their son.
CG: You know, that goes back to the bravery of these families to share their stories.
HL: Do you have any other projects in the works or is this film taking up all your time right now?
CG: I feel like the work on Anything Can Happen is really starting now. We've made this film and now we want people to see it. And we want the right people to see it. So that's taking up a lot of time. I have ideas for other projects, but right now, my focus has been on getting this out to as many people as possible.
HL: There's a whole lot more to being a filmmaker than just making an exceptional film.
CG: The filmmaking part is the fun part. But there's so much to it that is not filming or editing and that is equally as important. I think at the end of the day, anyone who makes something wants people to see it, and, in this case, I think it's very important that people see it.
HL: How is Anything Can Happen different from other cannabis films?
CG: I was asked what genre of film Anything Can Happen is, and the best thing I can come up with is perspective advocacy, insomuch that it’s not an advocacy film that blasts a message in your face. It doesn’t make an argument, it provides a perspective from these families and that was important to me. These are just real, everyday families. They could be your neighbours. Each one of them brings a different layer to this story so that you can come away from it with your own conclusions. I really hope that’s what people do.
HL: Thank you, Chase. It's a deeply moving film with a tender rhythm and a powerful message. We hope a lot of people see it.
Chase Gouthro is a filmmaker from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Gouthro began his career in media at 16 years old, working on-air at a local radio station in his hometown of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. While studying Creative Communications at Red River College, Gouthro found his passion behind a camera. After college, Gouthro spent nine years with CTV News, where he worked as a photojournalist, editor, and digital journalist for both CTV Winnipeg and CTV National News. In 2019, Gouthro left CTV and started Bare Hand Films, which specializes in non-fiction film, branded-documentary, television, and commercial media.
His debut documentary, Anything Can Happen, explores the use of cannabis in paediatric medicine in Canada, and has won multiple awards in film festivals across Canada and the United States.