Beth Wilson was born with a rare condition called Pfeiffer syndrome which caused certain bones in her skull to fuse within the womb.
Greer Cofield was kicked in the face by a horse, crushing the bones.
Josh Bennett was born with a cleft lip and palate and had the dream of being a singer.
In his documentary “Beautiful Faces,” Dagan Beckett, a 2012 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, explores the journeys these three, their parents and local surgeon Dr. Larry Sargent took through multiple plastic surgeries to address their medical problems.
On Nov. 3, the Chattanooga premiere of “Beautiful Faces” will take place in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall. The film screening will take place at 7 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the cast and filmmakers.
Admission is free for students and $5 for non-students, but registration is required. Click here for the registration link.
Sargent is world-famous for his craniofacial surgery skills, and his work has been featured in award-winning documentaries on internationally broadcast The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel and the National Geographic Channel.
He founded and is director of the Craniofacial Center at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga and created the Craniofacial Foundation of America in 1989, which has served patients with facial deformities in more than 40 states and several countries.
While he is a significant subject of “Beautiful Faces,” its “heart” is the parents of Beth, Greer and Josh, Beckett said.
“You’re seeing it through the eyes of the parents and the grief and what they go through,” he said. “My hope is that, no matter what walk of life you’re on, whether you’re a parent, whether you’re a young adult that’s got a medical issue or whatever, you’ll get something out of it through those three stories and have some sort of hope that people deal with this stuff every day and they overcome it.”
In 2022, Beckett, who received bachelor’s degrees in music and mass communications from UTC, released “Songbirds: A Documentary” about the local guitar museum and the stories behind its extensive collection of historic instruments. It won an Emmy award in the Topical Documentary category from the Nashville/Midsouth chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It is now available on Amazon Prime and Peacock video streaming services.
The making of “Beautiful Faces” began while Beckett was shooting “Songbirds.” He’d met Sargent several years earlier while shooting video for another project and learned, “OK, he’s a big deal, and he does some pretty insane surgeries and stuff like that.”
After deciding Sargent would make a good subject for his new documentary, Beckett reached out to the surgeon.
“I took it upon myself to go meet with him and essentially said, ‘I’d like to do a film including you. I don’t know what it’s about. I have no story in mind, but I’d like to focus it on you,’” Beckett recalled.
While Sargent plays a major role, Beckett discovered during the making of the documentary that the parents of the patients provided stories that would resonate with filmgoers.
“The idea was it was just going to be kind of a biography on him,” Beckett said, “but getting to learn and getting to know the parents of the kids that he had operated on, we found that’s the true story.”
Much of the film focuses on Beth’s mother, Laura, and what she has gone through in the seven years and 64 surgeries—“at this point,” Beckett said—since her first child was born with severe physical deformities, especially to the skull and face.
“Imagine the devastation you go through,” Beckett said. “The things that the mom reveals about how she felt are things that no one would even dare say in public—wishing her child would die or contemplating suicide.”
In Greer’s case, she was a teenager and championship equestrian when she was kicked in the face by a horse, causing injuries so severe doctors weren’t sure she would live. When she arrived at Erlanger Hospital on its Lifeforce helicopter, emergency room doctors immediately said, “Call Dr. Sargent.”
Like Beth, her story in “Beautiful Faces” concentrates on the emotions of her father, Greg.
“It is more focused on the relationship between her and her dad and the dad’s grief: My only job was to protect my daughter, and I failed at doing that. So it really focuses on him coming to terms with that.”
Josh Bennett wanted to be a singer but was born with a cleft lip and palate, “and if you know anything about having a hole in the roof and trying to be a singer, it ain’t easy,” Beckett said.
“He dealt with a lot of bullying as a kid, a lot of issues of self-esteem growing up and trying to overcome those,” Beckett said.
With the help of Sargent’s work, Bennett is now in Los Angeles, working as an actor and singer.
Sargent’s patients may receive a great deal of attention in the film, said “Beautiful Faces” producer Irving Berner, but the skills of Sargent are highlighted through the amazing results he achieved for Beth, Greer and Josh.
“You’re watching the film and what he does, and you’re sitting there going, ‘How does anybody ever learn how to do this?’” Berner said. “It is beyond medicine.”