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Short Film Features John Snow’s Struggle To Convince His Adversaries With Data

Called “Definitely Worth Seeing”

A young filmmaker with an interest in film since childhood who saw cinematic potential in the story of John Snow because of the visual media Snow used to present data has produced a short film entitled “Snow”. He calls it the “latest rendition of the Father of Epidemiology”. The focus of the film is on Snow’s struggle to convince the public and the scientific establishment about the validity of his ideas about cholera.

Larry Kushi, an epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente Northern California and an advisor and reviewer on the film, told the Epidemiology Monitor the film is “definitely worth seeing”. It is the first attempt I am aware of to dramatize the story of John Snow, said Kushi. As such, it is “pretty dramatic” or can be, he added, and “pretty cool”.

Short Synopsis

The official publicity for the film presents it as a short live action film based on a true story and describes it this way---“When the great cholera outbreak of 1854 sends London                 
spinning out of control, Dr John Snow must stand up to the city’s most powerful players in exposing the ugly truth about London’s water supply.”

The film will be screened at upcoming film festivals this fall and is scheduled to be shown at the University of Southern California (USC) on September 30, and at Columbia, and the University of Pittsburgh later this fall.


The filmmaker, Issac Ergas, is a former Peace Corps volunteer who first became interested in water projects while working in Cameroon. He subsequently earned an MPH degree at Berkeley in 2001 and was also involved in a water study in the San Francisco Bay area.  He enrolled in a Master of Film and TV Production at USC and told the Monitor his worlds of public health and film were soon “colliding”. He wrote screenplays for the Snow story and found funding from the Sloan Foundation which was interested in producing films with science-based themes. He called his idea and Sloan’s goal “a perfect fit”.

Ergas said he created the film to highlight Snow’s achievements and to shed light on epidemiology as a field. He said the film is intended to serve an educational purpose as well as to be entertaining and appeal to both public health and lay audiences.

However, since the film is short at 22 minutes, Ergas is also hoping to stimulate interest in making a full-length feature film about John Snow. He described his film as “a taste of what could be”.

The film has not been shown publicly yet and will be submitted to a variety of film festivals this fall to obtain publicity for the film. According to Ergas, the film is not being distributed on DVD at this time to make his application to film festivals more competitive. Once widely or freely available, festival organizers are less interested in selecting films for screening, according to Ergas.

Asked about how historically accurate his film is, Ergas said he did a lot of research and spoke with the authors of books about Snow. He did not want his film to be labeled a “silly portrayal” by epidemiologists and public health professionals.

Based on Facts

Some compromises were made, according to Ergas, however they never seemed very far away from the facts. For example, Snow apparently did not prepare his maps until after the pump handle was removed, but in the film this sequence is altered. Also, some characters are fictional, however, this has no bearing on the film’s purpose, according to Ergas. He told the Monitor that removal of the pump handle was “of great significance” regardless that some believe that the epidemic had started to decline before the pump handle was removed.”

Stages of the Film

 The film opens with Snow convincing himself about the soundness of his conclusions and then depicts him building a case for shutting down the well. He must convince the public and the scientific community that the cholera is water-borne and not airborne as the miasma theory postulated. The film shows how a systematic epidemiologic approach is able to change a paradigm about disease spread. The climax comes in Snow’s confrontation with his adversary from the Royal College of Physicians who represents mainstream thought on the subject.

Future Screenings

Readers who wish to arrange a screening of the film may contact Ergas to discuss possible arrangements. Because the film is short, a screening probably needs to include another activity such as a panel discussion to complement the showing. Also, sponsors of the screening must agree not to make copies of the film and return the original to Ergas, at least until the film is publicly released.


The official synopsis for the film is as follows:

Set in London in the summer of 1854 during one of the worst cholera epidemics the world has ever known, Snow is the story of Dr. John Snow, a local physician and anesthesiologist, who must find the courage to stand up to the city's most powerful players in exposing the ugly truth about London's water supply. Together with his allies, they must piece together a scientific puzzle that will culminate in one historic moment of removing the handle from the Broad Street Pump. This symbolic act not only marks a new era in the understanding of disease, but also anoints Snow as the "Father of Modern Epidemiology".

Contact Information

Ergas may be contacted at

To watch a trailer of the film and to obtain other information, visit



A printable PDF version of this article is available for download by clicking the icon to the left.





"'He described his film as a “taste of what could be”. "







…a systematic epidemiologic approach is able to change a paradigm about disease spread.









“…marks a new era in the understanding of disease…


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