(CNN) — “I had to film her death,” Frederic Lumiere says softly. “In the film, I’m behind the camera, and you can hear me crying.”
This is a man who makes documentaries for a living, who shoots World War II specials on Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge for the History Channel.
But he broke down telling Michele Baldwin’s story.
Baldwin, a 45-year-old single mother, was diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer in 2011. Doctors gave her just a few months to live. So she decided to use the time she had left to make a difference.
Lumiere met Baldwin shortly after she returned from India, where she broke a world record paddle boarding more than 700 miles down the Ganges River to raise awareness of cervical cancer. The first time they spoke it was for hours, and the pair became instant friends. Baldwin was originally supposed to be a part of Lumiere’s documentary, “Someone You Love: The HPV Epidemic,” but her story was “too amazing and too epic,” he says.
He decided instead to use footage a freelancer cameraman Nat Stone had shot of Baldwin’s journey down the Ganges to create another documentary called “Lady Ganga.”
He isn’t taking the traditional route with this film — selling it to a TV network or production studio. He didn’t want the outside pressure. Instead, he and co-producer Mark Hefti are raising the money on Kickstarter. They plan to donate 100% of the profits from the film to the Michele Baldwin Memorial Fund, which is managed by the American Sexual Health Association.
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV, which has a vaccine. Yet every year more than 270,000 women die worldwide from the disease.
Baldwin passed away in February 2012. After her death, Lumiere couldn’t bring himself to work on the film.
“Any time I tried to start it, I felt incredibly inadequate. Whatever I did, it wasn’t good enough for her,” he says.
His wife finally convinced him to see a therapist, who helped him realize his grieving was normal.
As Lumiere spoke early Thursday afternoon, the number of donations on his Kickstarter page continued to climb. In less than 12 hours, his project had raised more than $12,000.
Lumiere, who has contributed to CNN iReport since 2008, hopes to have the film out by summer 2015. He is writing Baldwin’s story now “as if this is the last film I’ll ever make.”