2018 Sundance Docs in Focus: QUIET HEROES

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Torben Bernhard

Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, and Amanda Stoddard recognize the only doctor in the state of Utah who would treat patients with AIDS in the early years of the epidemic.

Festival Section:
Documentary Premieres

Sundance Program Description:

Dr. Kristen Ries, an infectious-disease specialist, arrived in Salt Lake City on June 5, 1981 – the same day the Centers for Disease Control first published a report on what would become known as AIDS. By the next year, Ries would encounter her first patient with the disease. Because of stigma and fear surrounding both AIDS and homosexuality, Ries and her eventual partner, physician assistant Maggie Snyder, became the only medical professionals in Utah willing to treat the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS. These patients, facing certain death in the early years of the epidemic, often had to keep their status a secret or risk ostracism from their families, workplaces, and religious communities.

Chronicles of the AIDS epidemic have tended to focus on cities with large gay populations, like New York and San Francisco. Quiet Heroes instead reveals the impact of the disease on a less obvious, more conservative location – one that perhaps better mirrored the rest of the country at the time – as it shares the evocative story of these unheralded caregivers and their patients.

Some Background:

  • Jenny Mackenzie

    The Salt Lake City-based Mackenzie transitioned to documentary filmmaking after two decades as a social worker. Her previous films have screened on HBO and PBS. This marks her first Sundance project.

Co-Director/Producer/Executive Producer:

  • Jared Ruga

    Ruga conceived of this project while a law student at the University of Utah, which has assembled a special collection of records and memorabilia from Dr Ries and Maggie Snyder’s practice. He is also co-executive producer of 2018 US Documentary Competition title THE DEVIL WE KNOW.


  • Amanda Stoddard

    Stoddard was collaborating on a separate documentary with Ruga, who recruited her for this project. This is her first Sundance credit.

Executive Producers:

  • Jonathan M Ruga

    Ruga is co-founder and CEO of Sentry Financial Corporation, on the board of the Alliance for a Better Utah, St Mark’s Hospital, and several other social issue organizations, as well as Jared Ruga’s father. Based in Salt Lake City, this is the first project he is supporting at Sundance.

  • Scott F Young

    Also based in Salt Lake City and marking his first Sundance credit, Young is the COO of Sentry Financial Corporation.


  • Patrick Ryan Gass and Christine Siegel Elder

    Elder previously cut one of Mackenzie’s short films. This marks the first Sundance credit for both Gass and Elder.

Why You Should Watch:
As noted in my Sundance capsule above, the story of AIDS in Utah serves as a microcosm demonstrating how the disease was – and wasn’t – addressed in most places around the country, and around the world. Mackenzie, Ruga, and Stoddard rightly celebrate the ethical stance taken by Dr Ries, PA Snyder, and the Sisters of the Holy Cross to provide care and comfort for those the rest of society was all too willing to ignore, if not actively shun.

More Info:
Sundance’s Meet the Artists

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.