A Paralyzing Fear

Cover for A Paralyzing Fear


Documentary film can not only represent our past, but helps us to understand our present, and can chart a course for our future. Emmy Award-winner Nina Gilden Seavey and Olympia Dukakis’s A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America is an historical lesson for our coronavirus world. 


The Documentary Center is streaming this film free of charge as we are reminded of the words of writer Eugene O’Neill “There is no past, there is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again - now."  


Seldom has society come full circle in the cycle of a disease from illness, to an epidemic to cure. Polio is the 20th century's most notable exception. Every baby boomer remembers collecting dimes in their dime cards, hearing about the success of the Salk shot, and lining up for oral vaccine in a sugar cube. But few know the story of how polio came to America in 1916 and grew into the frightening epidemics of the 1940's and 50's when the diseases crippled tens of thousands of children every summer. Led by a president crippled by the virus himself, the battle against polio was the first, and perhaps most successful fight against a disease. This fascinating story is told here using thousands of photographs and films along with interviews with polio survivors, their families, nurses, doctors, and community leaders, brining to life an America that was both brave and innocent when people believed in scientists, government, and the power of every person in the fight to protect the children.


Olympia Dukakis - Narrator


Director: Nina Gilden Seavey
Producer: Paul Wagner and Nina Gilden Seavey
Writer: Stephan Chodorov and Nina Gilden Seavey
Directors of Photography:  Allen Moore and Reuben Aaronson
Editor: Catherine Shields
Composer: Paul Christianson


Emmy Award for Best Research in a News or Documentary Program, 1999
Emmy Nomination for Best Editing, 1999
Emmy Nomination for Best Music, 1999
Erik Barnouw Prize for Best Historical Film of the Year, 1999
International Film and Video Festival, Certificate of Recognition for Creative Excellence, 1999
Gold Award, Cindy Award for Northeastern United States, 1999
Axiem Award for Outstanding Achievement in Television Documentary, 1999
Golden Hugo for Outstanding Achievement in History and Biography, 1999
Golden Apple Award for Outstanding Achievement in Educational Filmmaking, 1998
International Documentary Association – ABC News VideoSource Award, nominee, 1998
Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Outreach for Documentary Film, 2000
Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film and Video Festival, 2000
Gold Medal, International Cindy Competition, for Best International Broadcast, 2000

How to view

View the full film
DVD Purchase - First Run Features
International Theatrical Distribution - Charles Scheurhoff and Associates
Digital Download – ITunes, Netflix (digital and DVD), Snag Films, Epix, Hulu, Amazon InstantView


For press inquires, contact [email protected] or 202-994-6787