Actor Saffron Cassaday (Pete Winning and the Pirates: The Motion Picture) gives audiences an up close and personal perspective of her experience with ulcerative colitis and invites the viewer to tag along on her biohacking journey in her documentary Designer $hit.
Cassaday’s daily pains and urgencies, along with having to purchase pricey medication and steroids, have initiated her curiousity around alternative methods to cure her auto-immune disease. The method that has proven to have a good track record (but also seems to be the most taboo) is Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT). The procedure requires the patient to administer a stool sample from a qualified donor. This sample would, ideally, benefit the patient’s health by serving bodily areas that are lacking in bacteria. FMT, like with several biohacking concepts, has not been FDA approved, which causes medical professionals to redirect attention away from this treatment. However, with Designer $hit, Cassaday researches fecal transplants and appoints herself as a guinea pig (with the help of her partner, Al).
Designer $hit, a title that refers to a throwaway gag about samples given by famous, affluent donors, is a light watch, and Saffron Cassaday proves that she’s a good sport in front of and behind the camera. The informative flick skimps on graphic details and finds a unique in-between with its presentation – imagine the indie cred of the Duplass Brothers meets a daytime infomercial. It helps that Cassaday occasionally stops her movie to draw awareness towards the commercial nature of her doc, but she’s also very careful to address how FMT inquires must still be consulted with a medical professional. Cassaday’s cautious filmmaking issues a centrist attitude to her film, but playing it safe is the best route with this subject matter (a considerate quality that was missing in the “biohacking” doc Stronger By Stress).
The interviews with gastroenterologists are really interesting (highlights being chats with Australia’s Thomas Borody, MD, PhD and Minnesota’s Alexander Khoruts, MD), as they realistically break down FMTs and alternative medicine. Borody’s metaphor for experimentation really sticks with you: “You just need one martian to prove that there is life on Mars.” These educational bits (accompanied by neat animations) are spaced out by banter between Saffron and Al. These scenes may be slightly staged (with Al mugging a little bit more for the camera), but the interactions are cute and funny and lead up to an incredible ending with a satisfying twist.
As informative as the documentary is, weirdly enough, Designer $hit could also work as a rom-com.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie