Leicester to host first UK screening of acclaimed documentary

The University of Leicester will host the first UK screening of an internationally-acclaimed documentary telling the story of a young woman’s fight to live fully while dying.

Salt in My Soul is based on the posthumously-published memoir of Mallory Smith, who documented her fight against cystic fibrosis through journal entries, video clips and audio recordings.

Mallory died at the age of 25 from antimicrobial resistance to antibiotic treatments following a double lung transplant. She was the first patient with cystic fibrosis to receive phage therapy, a novel treatment for so-called ‘superbugs’, but the very next morning after it had been administered, doctors said that Mallory had been without oxygen for too long and advised that she be removed from life support. Her autopsy revealed proof of concept – the phages had reached their targets and were starting to work.

Martha Clokie, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Leicester and leading expert in bacteriophage research and treatment, will host a special screening and panel discussion with Mallory’s mother, Diane Shader Smith, and the film’s director, Will Battersby, on the evening of Wednesday 25 May in the University’s Attenborough Film Theatre.

Professor Clokie said: “I followed Mallory’s story as it unfolded and was deeply saddened when she died.

“Her family are an incredible example of tenacity, positivity and kindness and they provide unique insights into what it is like to love someone who is at constant risk of fatal infection and into their frustration that alternatives (phages) do exist but are difficult to obtain.

“I asked Diane to come to the UK as her experience will help to motivate more clinically-driven research into phages and thus allow these treatments to become mainstream.”

Prolonged exposure to antibiotics allows harmful microbes in the body to evolve mechanisms that protect them from the effects of antimicrobial treatments. This can often lead to complications for patients who are more susceptible to infections, such as those with cystic fibrosis.

But by harnessing naturally-occurring bacteriophages – viruses which target specific bacteria – scientists can combat infections in patients who have otherwise stopped responding to antibiotic treatments.

Mallory with mother Diane. Credit: Diane Shader Smith

Diane Shader Smith, an author in her own right and editor of Mallory’s posthumous book Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life which inspired the film, said: “Mallory was a gifted storyteller who created poetry out of prosaic experiences. Salt in My Soul, an example of memoir as medicine, shares her story through first person diary entries and details how she came to receive phage therapy.

“We are using her book and documentary to raise awareness for the urgent global health crisis of antimicrobial resistance and for phage therapy as a treatment worthy of further study.” 

Film producer Will Battersby, who made his directorial debut for the documentary, added: “It was a huge honour to adapt Mallory’s story for the screen, using hours of her private audio and video as well as her extraordinary words. The film has been universally critically-acclaimed and I am thrilled to see it bring a broader awareness of the possibility for phage therapy to help combat the biggest public health crisis the world faces, namely antimicrobial resistance.

“This is an issue that will affect us all, whether we currently know it or not. Mallory’s story can hopefully be an early call to action, just as the work of scientists such as Professor Clokie are pioneering answers to that call.”

The University of Leicester’s screening of Salt in My Soul (Wednesday 25 May, film screening 5.30pm, discussion 7.30pm), Attenborough Film Theatre) is open to students, staff and members of the public.

While tickets are free, guests are encouraged to book their place via Eventbrite.

Mallory Smith documented her fight against cystic fibrosis through journal entries, video clips and audio recordings. Credit: Giant Pictures