Documentarian Karen Frye is multi-tasking. She is on her cell phone and the laptop computer is on her lap, computing, and she still says it’s okay to keep asking questions about her film, “When Cancer Returns: Mary Schnack.”
“It’s okay, keep on talking,” she says. “I can do more than one thing at once.”
For example, she can be the mother of Channing Frye, a rising NBA star for the Phoenix Suns. Yes, there is a lot of talent in the family line. She is also, in addition to being a filmmaker, a furious self-promoter, and she’s doing a pretty darned good job of that at the 18th annual Sedona International Film Festival, which is buzzing and whirring and thumping with people going into all kinds of directions.
Another thing she can is this: hold back the tears. The subject of her film, Mary Schnack, has just died. She was 53 years old.
The film is about her struggle with the disease. Frye met Schnack before cancers numbered one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight. At “number six,” the point at which signs of cancer returned and she had to undergo treatments again, Frye decided to do a film. Frye says Schnack was somewhat cagey about how she behaved during the making of the documentary. She would sneak things in, Frye says. Fateful things, such as the statement “I’m stopping at cancer number eight.”
Which is what has happened: number eight.
“We always knew she would survive,” Frye says. “This has become a full-circle moment. I would be in a pickle right now if I didn’t do this documentary. I knew I had to focus on this.”
They met a little more than two years ago at a business conference for the National Association of Business Owners in Phoenix.
“She loved basketball so we talked about sports,” says Frye, who also does an internet multi-media show called “Women Talking Sports Online.” Yes, Frye has a deep connection to the basketball world and she is making the most of it, but now people at the festival are coming up to her, as she multi-tasks, choking back tears successfully, fully in the emotions only tragic cosmic irony can produce, and she says she is “okay.”
When Schnack found out she had cancer, at around No. 4, Frye says “I knew instinctively I had to do this film. So now she has a documentary.”
More subdued emotional restraint ensues.
The film is described, in the synopsis written for the Sedona Film Festival, as being about “Mary Schnack — She’s inspired so many of us. She’s strong, accomplished, well loved, generous and a dynamo! While devoting her life to helping others around the world (as she also raises her daughter), Mary Schnack courageously faced the challenge of a cancer diagnosis eight separate times. This is a tribute to a woman much loved and respected by Sedona residents and other communities from around the globe.”
It played twice at the Sedona film festival.
“I think about about what we were doing, what we were thinking about at different times, thinking about the little things, about how things are not resolved when we are living,” Frye says. “There were ten things I told her not to do.”
Magical thinking enters the picture. It’s a component of grief.
“If somebody could tell me I’m not on the right path, that would be absolutely insane. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, yes it is. Don’t make it anything other than we have divine influence over this process … there was stuff I told her not to do.”