US Premiere: BlackStar Film Festival, August 1-4, 2024

UK Premiere: Tate Modern, August 7, 2024

an eye with an infected cell reflected in its pupil on a pink ground, green text says DIS-EASE
poster for Dis-Ease (Mariam Ghani / Indexical Films, 2024)


DIS-EASE is a feature-length documentary about how we imagine disease, and how that affects what we do when we encounter illness, outbreaks, doctors, treatments, and disability in real life. It dives deep into the weird, wild archives of medical imaging, public health messaging, and pop-culture outbreak narratives to understand how ideas have moved between science, science fiction, and political ideology over the past century.

DIS-EASE is based on seven years of archival research and draws on interviews with 26 activists, journalists, scholars, and physicians. It identifies and breaks down three interrelated paradigms in the history of science and medicine: the “war on disease” popularized by germ theory, which metaphorically links human bodies and national bodies politic as equally threatened by invading alien forces; the white savior dynamic established by colonial medicine and re-inscribed by the neocolonial patterns of global public health; and the idea that individuals are morally responsible to maintain their own health through their individual choices, which often operates at the intersection of ableism, racism, and classism. The film interweaves fictional and nonfictional material to reveal the power of both kinds of outbreak narratives to shape scientific thinking and popular understanding, and the ways in which outbreak narratives from different periods reflect the cultural anxieties of those historical moments.

Why is this important? Simply put, problems described incorrectly will be solved incorrectly. To take one example, the invading germs of the war on disease reflect an outdated scientific paradigm; we now have a much more complex view of the role of microbes in balanced ecosystems, as well as in our own microbiomes. But we still deploy antibiotics in ways determined by that outdated adversarial view, which is leading us inexorably towards a future of total antibiotic resistance. On another front, massive amounts of global health funding continue to be directed towards disease eradication campaigns aimed at bringing malaria and polio to absolute zero – campaigns that have been going on for more than 50 years – even though scientists have repeatedly affirmed that both diseases have animal reservoirs, and thus can never be fully eradicated. What might happen if the same resources currently focused on pesticide spraying and distributing chemically treated malaria nets were instead directed towards building up national health systems, training community health workers, or increasing access to healthy air, water, housing, and food?

DIS-EASE is constructed in ten chapters that are loosely chronological. It begins with the emergence of germ theory in the late 19th century and ends by offering future prescriptions for a healthier world – calls to approach health care from a more holistic, more long-term, less violent, and less anthropocentric perspective. Visually, it moves from microscopic views, to individual patients, communities, national borders, and global outbreaks, ending with the ecosystem views of planetary health. Similarly, the score and sound design move between inner and outer spaces, inspired by the synth-driven scores of mid- to late-20th century science fiction and science documentaries.

Ultimately, DIS-EASE is a provocation to re-think how we define both the “public” and “health” in public health – who is included, what counts as care, and what it means to be sick or well.

For more on the research behind the film, see here.



120 min, color & b/w

Spatialized 5.1 surround mix (theaters), true stereo mix (online)

Shooting format: 4K (Sony, RED, microscopy camera)

Archival footage: 2K, HD and SD scans


Featuring interviews with:


Director/producer Mariam Ghani, Indexical Films: [email protected]

Executive producer Alysa Nahmias, Ajna Films: [email protected]


Directed and produced by Mariam Ghani

Executive Producer: Alysa Nahmias

Consulting Producers: Day Al-Mohamed, Wendy Ettinger

Assistant Producer: Lou Wang-Holborn

Archival Producer: Peter Nauffts

Supervising DP: Adam Hogan

Consulting DP: Nausheen Dadabhoy

East Coast/Southern USA, Macro, and Fluid Dynamics
Cinematography & Sound: Adam Hogan
AC/DIT: Laura Stayton

Los Angeles Unit
Cinematography: Nausheen Dadabhoy
Sound Recordist: Vero Lopez
Driver and Swing: Brandon Phipps

United Kingdom Unit
Cinematography: Benjie Croce
Sound Recordists: Juan Martinez, Darko Mocilnikar
AC: Jamie Gettings, Nathan Webber

Hong Kong Unit
Cinematography: Edwin Lee
Sound/DIT: Fallout Media

Berlin Unit
Cinematography: Tom Costello
AC: Phillip Meise
Sound Recordist: Adam Toy

Additional Cinematography: Mariam Ghani, Alexey Tarasov

Fixer (Rwanda): Joseph Waweru Njata

Assistant to the producer: Li-Ming Hu

Written and edited by Mariam Ghani & Emily Eberhart

Consulting editor: Penny Lane

Assistant editors: Hai-Li Kong, Jess Y. Lee

Editorial assistants: Mira Maxwell, Alexey Tarasov, Medha Ghosh, Jordan Eldridge

Online & archival restoration: Artists Tapes

Colorist: Laura Stayton

Titles & credits: Mariam Ghani

Original score by Qasim Naqvi
Published by Erased Tapes

Music supervisor: Derek McNeill

Sound design: Adam Hogan & Mariam Ghani

Sound engineering & mix: Adam Hogan

Interview research: Juliana Broad
Archival research: Harry Blain, Juliana Broad, Eileen Clancy, Jacob Clary, Emily Eberhart, Mariam Ghani, Floor Grootenhuis, Adrián Gutiérrez, Josh LaMore, Christian Lewis, Mira Maxwell, Peter Nauffts, Dilara O’Neil

Production accountant: A to Zanna Bookkeeping
Production legal: Shades of Gray

Funding provided by the Wellcome Trust, Field of Vision, Educational Foundation of America, the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature

Research support provided by the Wellcome Collection, the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, the New York Public Library, and the New York Academy of Medicine

Additional support provided by Artists Tapes, Experimental Media Arts @ UArk, the Women Make Movies Production Assistance Program, CPH:FORUM, and the Bennington College Provost & Dean’s Faculty Research Grants