Jim Allison: Breakthrough

Jim Allison: Breakthrough

April 27, 2020

Directed by

Bill Haney

Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Jim Allison went from small-town Texas to taking on the medical establishment.


About the Documentary

The story of one warmhearted, stubborn man’s visionary quest to find a cure for cancer, Jim Allison: Breakthrough is an homage to an unconventional superhero a pioneering, harmonica-playing scientist who triumphed over a doubtful medical establishment to save innumerable lives around the world. In 2018, Jim Allison won the Nobel Prize for discovering the immune system’s role in defeating cancer, but his long journey to get there was filled with barriers and criticism. 

With the help of narrator Woody Harrelson, director Bill Haney spotlights the perseverance of Allison starting with his days as a young, curious boy growing up in Texas whose life is shattered when he loses his mother to cancer. He grows into a headstrong, shaggy-haired, music-loving college student fascinated by immunotherapy, and he starts on a path to find a cure for the disease that so profoundly impacted his life. His research leads him to the discovery of the T-cell receptor, and its role in fighting cancer. Allison’s seminal discovery put him at odds with the entire medical community at the time, as he endured repeated setbacks, personal and professional, from a system not built to encourage breakthrough innovation. 


The Filmmakers

Bill Haney

Bill Haney is a filmmaker, inventor, and entrepreneur. As a writer, director, and producer of both narrative and documentary films, he has won The Gabriel Prize, a Silver Hugo, and IDA’s Pare Lorentz Award. Additional awards include a Marine Conservation Award, Genesis Award and awards from Amnesty International and Earthwatch. Bill’s portfolio as a filmmaker includes award-winning documentaries on socially important subjects such as coal mining (The Last Mountain, 2011) and worker exploitation (The Price of Sugar, 2007) and his work as writer/producer on Tim Disney’s civil rights drama, American Violet.


  • Bergen International Film Festival

    Golden Owl Award

  • American Film Festival

    Audience Award (Nominee)

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

Who are the medical or scientific heroes who've had an impact on your own life? Had you heard of Jim Allison before seeing this film?