Nursing alumnus develops movie

Leo Oliva and Melanie Di Pietro Leo Oliva and Melanie Di Pietro
Leo Oliva, B.S.N. ‘06 and Melanie Di Pietro, B.S.C. ’11
Alumnus Uses the Big Screen to Share Real World Experience

When School of Nursing and Health Studies alumnus Leo Oliva, B.S.N. ‘06 set out to earn a degree in nursing, he wasn’t thinking about turning his clinical experiences into a Hollywood movie. Although he did have a deep interest in entertainment, as a nursing student he was focused on learning how to provide the best possible care to people who were hurt or dealing with illness.

But after graduating from the UM SONHS and moving to Los Angeles, Oliva’s experiences as a nurse led him to think deeply about one of the most profound issues confronting healthcare providers: end-of-life care. The result is “The Shift,” an award-winning movie written and co-produced by Oliva, and starring Oliva and veteran actor Danny Glover.

“It is precisely because of my SONHS nursing degree and my years of experience as a registered nurse that I selected this topic,” Oliva recalled following a recent campus screening of the film. “The types of heart-wrenching decisions dealing with end-of-life and quality-of-life matters depicted in the film – well, I saw these being made every day.”

The ultimate goal of this film was to bring the reality of end-of-life choices to the attention of real people in an entertaining matter and hopefully start a conversation, noted Oliva. “Ideally, someone who sees this film will realize the need to decide for themselves what they prefer in terms of quality of life and end-of-life care and prepare their paperwork laying out their wishes ahead of time, saving the ones they love from the burden of having to guess what the person would want,” he said.

Co-producer Melanie Di Pietro, B.S.C. ’11, explained the film has already made a difference. “We showed the movie at a film festival in a Filipino-American community in California. This is a demographic that tends to be closed off to end-of-life issues, and cultural practices actively protect dying family member from knowing their terminal diagnosis, so we weren’t sure how the movie would be received by this audience.”

As it turns out, the screening generated so much discussion that the festival’s organizer asked if they could show it again later that day, and one person who had been in the morning screening returned to say he had made his end of life plans within an hour of seeing the film. “I don’t know a greater reward as a filmmaker than to make that kind of impact and difference in people’s thinking and acting on their end of life care options,” said Di Pietro.

Traditional B.S.N. student Sangella Harris attended the UM screening, which was followed by a live session with Oliva and Di Pietro, where members of the audience were able to ask the star and co-producers question about the making of the film and its impact. She found the event, organized and hosted by the UM SONHS Alumni Association, both educational and thought provoking. “The one insight I gained from watching this movie, and which I will take with me, is that no matter how hard I fight, as a nurse I will not be able to save the life of every patient. But I can ensure that in their time of distress they depart comfortably, and with dignity,” said Harris.