Former RTVF student creates documentary on the reality of organ donation


Courtesy photo from Colleen Stymeist-Wood

Former RTVF student, Colleen Stymeist-Wood, directed a documentary titled “JOE238”. This documentary will premiere on Dec. 15 on KVIE.

Former radio, television and film student Colleen Stymeist-Wood will be premiering her documentary ‘“JOE238” on KVIE Dec. 15.
A documentary 10 years in the making, “JOE238” documents the death of 24-year-old Sacramento police officer Joseph “Joe” Chairez, who wished to donate his organs upon death, and follows the lives of his loved ones in their unique grieving process as a donor family.
“It’s really a story of grieving and healing because that’s what an organ donor family is, they’ve experienced a loss,” Stymeist-Wood said. “It’s also just a testament for organ donation, and how important that is, and a real honest look at what that means to be an organ donor.”
Stymeist-Wood said her inspiration for this film can be traced all the way back to 1990, after her 10-month-old daughter contracted a virus that attacked her heart and required her to receive a heart transplant from a boy named James, who had passed away in an accident at a time in which pediatric organ transplants were still experimental.
After the successful heart transplant of her daughter and the growth of her children, Stymeist-Wood said she was “trying to find what to do with her life.”
“I decided that I was always really drawn to film, and I just wanted to make a project in James’ honor to thank the family for the gift they’ve given us,” Stymeist-Wood said. “I’ve never got to say thank you to the family, and it just wore on my heart for quite a while, and I just feel so blessed to have received such a gift that I decided I wanted to make a film in honor of their decision.”
With this motivation, Stymeist-Wood said she began taking RTVF courses at Cosumnes River College, where she met RTVF Professor Lauren Wagner. She then went on to take classes in the documentary program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where she said she solidified her idea of the documentary before returning to CRC.
“I almost didn’t go to class the first day of the semester with Lauren,” Stymeist-wood said. “I just wasn’t sure that a college class was where to start, but I went in and I pitched my idea to the class, and the class picked it and next thing I knew I had a crew, and we worked so hard that semester doing interviews, and putting together old films and pictures and just really jumping into the story of what “JOE238” was.”
The first rendition of “JOE238” was a short film for Wagner’s class RTVF 350: Intermediate Film/Digital Cinema Production. Wagner said that even in its earliest form, the documentary evoked an emotional response from many of the viewers, and that she was happy to see the film take on a life of its own following her class.
“I hope that people when they watch it will get an understanding and an appreciation of donor families and how much they sacrifice, and also hopefully a little inspiration when renewing your driver’s license to check the box that you would be a donor and you would want to help someone else who’s in need,” Wagner said.
Stymeist-Wood said Chairez’s family was excited when she approached them with the idea of the film. Some of the subjects involved in the documentary include Chairez’s parents, Jess and Theresa Chairez, and Chairez’s fiancee, Rebecca Cisneros.
The project took Stymeist-Wood and her film crew to numerous locations, from Houston, Texas, where the crew filmed the Transplant Games of America, which is a festival that celebrates organ donation, to Mexico during the Day of the Dead, a holiday in which observers remember those who have passed on.
Stymeist-Wood said “JOE238” took her on more than just a physical journey.
“It’s been a very emotional journey for sure, because it’s something so close to me,” Stymeist-Wood said. “I mean, my daughter would not be here today if it wasn’t for a family that made the decision to donate their baby’s organs, and it never leaves you how blessed and grateful you are to have your child alive and very-much prospering, so that was very emotional for me because I have such a respect for all organ donors who make that decision.”
In addition to its premiere on KVIE, Stymeist-Wood said a nationwide broadcast of the documentary is planned for April, 2022 in honor of National Donate Life Month.