James Anshutz can’t readily remember what kind of cancer the children have that he’s helped transform into goddesses and dragon riders. He just sees them as kids.
“I want to give them the chance to play,” said Anshutz, a Honolulu-based photographer who is spearheading The Lemuria Project. This multimedia, interactive project transforms children who have potentially terminal illness into characters of their imagination.
“It’s very out of this world. There’s not really a word to describe how awesome it is,” said Xander Van Den Berg, the 10-year-old dragon rider who is in remission from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The project is named after Lemuria, a continent that allegedly was located in the Pacific Ocean. The mythical land’s ephemerality allows the children to dream up what it could have looked like. The project is a temporary way for children to escape their world of hospitals and medical tools for a more imaginative place.
James and Xander met when Xander was going to the hospital every month for antibiotic IV drips that would take hours to flow through his body. Delving into the world of dragons and drawing was a very good distraction from the treatment.
“I’ve always had a fascination with dragons,” Xander said while busily drawing robots and other creatures in his sketchbook. “I started drawing them in treatment and I never knew how far they would get me.”
The dragons in Xander’s imagination have taken him pretty far. As part of the project, he enjoyed a full day photo shoot where a makeup artist transformed half of his face into dragon scales and painted his hands and feet blue. A costumer created a colorful outfit complete with Xander’s favorite part — a belt across his chest to house a sword. He said the surprise of seeing his costume for the first time was “jaw dropping.”
“I felt like I should be displayed in a museum.”
The event continued with James snapping still photos and videographers shooting Xander sitting in a chair and walking, which will later be animated into him riding a dragon. Anshutz’s drew inspiration for this project from previous projects where he photographed children with cancer and women who had survived breast cancer.
““I’m doing it because I like to see people smile. I provided them an outlet for a day, for a lifetime,” he said.
Anshutz began the self-funded project in 2010 and has relied on friends in the entertainment business to volunteer their time and talents. Now, he’s at a point where the production needs a bigger budget. He envisions creating a documentary, children’s book and an interactive smart phone and tablet app. He’d love to provide 12-15 children with costumes, props and acting coaches to help them act out their imaginations on the big screen.
Now, Anshutz is having the footage from the participants’ imagination adventures edited into a movie trailer, which he’ll use to promote the project in an online fund raising campaign and to approach national organizations for financial contributions in early 2013.
Meanwhile, Xander’s mom Lisa is ready to continue helping James with whatever the project needs to take off for the kids.
“It comes from the purest part of his soul,” she said. “You don’t see many people like that anymore.”
For more information about The Lemuria Project, contact Anshutz at (808)561-6727 or visit: facebook.com/lemuriaproject