Novartis is bringing the stories of patients living with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), a chronic, inflammatory skin condition, to the silver screen.

The Swiss pharma giant is premiering its docuseries, The Beacons: Illuminating HS Stories, at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival Thursday afternoon.  

Produced in partnership with filmmaker and advocate Jasmine Ivanna Espy, the docuseries highlights the challenges faced by patients living with HS, which can often present in painful and unflattering lumps under the skin. 

The condition affects around 1 in every 100 people, including around 13 million Americans. Early diagnosis of HS is the key to treating the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While the disease isn’t rare, it’s not as well-known as other skin conditions, which made informing and educating viewers a key consideration when crafting the docuseries.

Gail Horwood, chief marketing and customer experience officer, innovative medicines / U.S. at Novartis, said the film’s debut was scheduled to occur during HS Awareness Week in order to combat the stigmatization that many patients feel when they’re diagnosed.

“We got the idea that it would be powerful to tell the story and make sure it reached a wide audience, which is why we engaged the Tribeca Film Festival,” she said. “Tribeca is a unique platform in our mind where you’ve got people coming together with diverse voices and it’s distributed more broadly.”

In addition to the film’s premiere, Espy and HS Patients will be participating in a panel discussion at the event.

Horwood said that featuring vignettes of patients adds to the effectiveness of the docuseries and allows for what are at times frank and difficult conversations around the disease. Given that HS presents in ways that can lower patients’ self esteem and drive them inward, this project was an opportunity to empower them and speak honestly about their experiences.

For example, Horwood pointed to LaToya, a patient advocate in the docuseries who highlighted the facts that the disease affects people of color twice as much as White people and is three times more likely to affect women than men.

In another vignette, a patient advocate’s condition worsened to the point that he was bedridden, but ultimately, he overcame the perception that the disease defined him and returned to his passions of photography.

Acknowledging that the Tribeca Film Festival is typically a platform for Hollywood actors and directors to show off their latest work, Horwood said The Beacons is taking a different slant by focusing on what patients have been through and inspiring hope through their resilience.

“The idea of putting it out at Tribeca is intended to elevate a condition that people are ashamed of, celebrate the stories that patients are telling and provide them the platform to be proud of how they’re combating this condition,” she said.