Debra Schaffner

Oakland, California
Documentary Film, Animation

What do you do when you find out that the mother you thought gave you nothing actually gave you an heirloom you’ll never get rid of? BRCA gene mutations give women up to an 87% risk for breast cancer and a 60% risk for ovarian cancer. No one likes these odds, but imagine you’ve inherited these womanly time-bombs from a checked-out mother you’ve always felt estranged from. DNA testing has produced the first generation of Previvors—healthy women living with the genetic inevitability of cancer. Previvors are the first large group of people able to intervene in their medical futures. The hybrid documentary, Curse of the Mutant Heirloom, examines the price of this gift, charting Debra Schaffner’s path as a Previvor and daughter of a holocaust survivor. As she and her BRCA sisters preemptively remove their most female organs, they face a medical system embedded in misogyny and profit-motives. Her body and the world both need to change—but the biggest mystery is whether she’ll ever be able to forgive her robotic mother.

Debra Schaffner was raised by robots in the suburbs of New Jersey. She eventually made her way west where she worked as a bike messenger, carpenter, and video editor before finding her voice as a filmmaker. Curse of the Mutant Heirloom is her first feature film, which has been supported by Cal Humanities, BAVC MediaMaker, and Jewish Film Institute.