Scene being filmed for  "The American Nurse"

Director Carolyn Jones, far right and cinematographer Jaka Vinsek film a scene for "The American Nurse" with nurse Tonia Faust at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.

“It was super important to get it right,” Carolyn Jones says of her movie, “The American Nurse,” which will be shown at the Ware Center Sunday at 3 and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. “The work they do makes such a difference.”

The documentary features five nurses working in vastly different worlds, though all are dealing with the profound issues of our times.

Their worlds include the maternity ward at Johns Hopkins; home nursing in the bleak poverty of Appalachian Kentucky; a prison in Louisiana; a rehab center for veterans in San Diego and a small Catholic nursing home in Wisconsin.

Jones, a 1975 Manheim Township High School graduate (her parents are Joseph and Jeanne Jones of Willow Street), met the nurses several years ago when she was creating a book, also called “The American Nurse,” which featured 75 nurses from across the country.

“I had thought I was making a book about nurses, but it turned into a journey across America and issues we face through the lens of a nurse,” Jones says. “It made me want to dig deeper.”

And so she set out to make a film.

“I knew I wanted to deal with the beginning of life and the end of life,” Jones says.

“I wanted people to relate to the nurses in our film, and I wanted it to be an entertaining film,” Jones says.

She succeeded on all counts.

The five nurses featured in the film are all fascinating in their own ways and the issues they confront are ones we all face in our lives and that certainly face our country.

Sure, some of the scenes in the movie are a little hard to take — Jones does not flinch from looking at the physical realities of nursing, but she doesn’t dwell on it. Ultimately though, this is a portrait of five amazing people whose compassion, intelligence and open hearts will remain with you for a long time to come.

“I have spent my career telling stories about people I am inspired by,” Jones says. “I am looking for people that show us at our best, I am always interested in people who know the right way to navigate life and make it richer for those around them. I like to surround myself with these people.”

The nurses are:

n Naomi Cross, who works in the delivery room at Johns Hopkins.

n Jason Short, a home health-care nurse in Kentucky.

n Tonia Faust, who works in the Hospice Center at Angola, the Louisiana State Prison.

n Brian McMillion, an army veteran and medic who works in rehabilitating wounded soldiers.

n Sister Stephen, a nun who runs a nursing home located next to a farm and often brings the animals over to visit with residents.

As she explains briefly at the beginning of the film, Jones got interested in nursing after being diagnosed with breast cancer and working with a wonderful nurse who made her laugh and realize that her illness would pass.

Years later, she was asked by global healthcare company Fresenius Kabi USA to do something that would celebrate nurses.

“I wasn’t really interested in doing a marketing project,” says Jones, (the author of four other books) “but if we could turn it into more of a PBS-style sponsorship, with a book available to the public, I would love to do it.”

And so she went on the road and photographed nurses and interviewed and videotaped them as well.

A film seemed like the natural next step.

“This is my first feature film,” Jones says. “I have done a lot of shorts. This was more rewarding than I anticipated.”

Jones does an excellent job in setting atmosphere, in focusing into what matters, in finding the profound in the stories.

And there are many profound moments.

When we watch Faust and an inmate named Lafayette working in the prison hospice center, the lessons of redemption and forgiveness are intense, without being preachy.

When Sister Stephen tells a tiny old woman that if Jesus comes during the night and tells her it’s time to go, that would be OK, something unlocks itself in the mystery of death.

And when Cross grips the hand of a woman going through great pain as she prepares to give birth, you see a slice of the way nurses live, always dipping into very deep wells.

The camera captures some very intimate moments, yet nobody seems to be aware that it’s there.

“I have a really small team,” Jones explains. “My producer, Lisa Frank, is also the sound person and Jaka Vinsek is the cinematographer. It’s just the three of us and it was very important we didn’t take up too much room. We tried to be as fly on the wall as we could possibly be, but show how intimate it is.”

In addition to the book and the film, “The American Nurse” has a third part. Its website shows brief interviews with more than 120 nurses as well as nurses touching on various health topics. (go to http://americannurseproject.com).

Jones feels she is not done with nurses. She is in the process of looking for funding to do a film on global nursing.

“I want to be in that world as much as I can be,” she says. “For whatever reason, nurses have very little veneer. They put it right on the table when you interview them and that is a wonderful thing.”

“The American Nurse” will be shown Sunday at 3 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $5 and $7. Jones will be holding a Q&A after the film. Visit millersville.edu/muarts.



Jane Holahan is the editor of the Entertainment section at Lancaster Newspapers. She can be reached at jholahan@lnpnews.com or (717) 481-6016. You can also follow@JaneHolahan on Twitter.