Private Project


From director George T. Nierenberg comes the most consequential film ever produced concerning people with sleep apnea, a disease affecting one billion people worldwide. Interweaving four stories, OUT OF BREATH documents the concerns of patients, the emotionally paralyzing effects on their families and the hope that comes with seeking treatment.

This unique documentary is anchored in the footage that was filmed by the characters themselves over a two-year period. Using their cell phones, they document their tortured nights and difficult days as OUT OF BREATH uncovers the human cost of sleep-disordered breathing. Director George T. Nierenberg interweaves the experiences of its four central characters: In North Carolina, outgoing family man Victor Boyd sees his heretofore solid marriage unraveling as his wall-shaking snoring keeps sending his wife Terah to the couch. Victor’s sleep apnea is severe enough to kill him if he doesn’t wear his CPAP mask at night. He and Terah know that sleep apnea disproportionately harms Black and Brown people. Since they have three children (two on the autism spectrum), dying young is not an option for Victor. But it is a real possibility.

Across the ocean in England, 34-year-old Danielle Davidson brightens the days of the house-bound elderly for whom she cares ... when she makes it into work, that is. Her exhaustion often has her bedridden for days at a time. She is plagued by whether she can ever muster the focus and fortitude to be a good “single mum” to her two sons. Moreover, the bulky CPAP machine she was given interferes with her love life.

In New Hampshire, former marine Billy Toto has been falling asleep at the wheel, unable to stay awake. He left his job as an emergency medical services driver out of fear of killing his clients. Now he is an avid motocross rider…though he can’t help but nap between races. After five prior procedures for his apnea proved unsuccessful, Billy and his wife Michelle each have their own reasons to hope that Surgery #6 will be the charm.

In California, young Kalyn McKenzie hid her condition during her courtship and now lives with new fiancée Fran, who is learning the hard way what it means to build a life with a person who cannot stay awake. Kalyn exemplifies the roughly 25 million Americans who suffer from this sleep disorder, though unlike most, she was diagnosed as a teenager.

All four struggle to wear the CPAP mask at night and to function during the day. They confront a constant mental fogginess while battling to stave off heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and other serious health conditions exacerbated by sleep apnea. But we also see their moments of joy and their persistent willpower as they refuse to give up on the varied treatment options that could lead to peaceful sleep... and fulfilling lives.

OUT OF BREATH captures Victor, Danielle, Billy, and Kalyn’s frustration, guilt, and exhaustion, as well as sleep apnea’s great toll on their partners and children. Yet, through it all, their resilience, their wit, and their capacity to be loving witnesses to one another shines through. Like Nierenberg’s acclaimed previous works – including “Say Amen, Somebody,” “No Maps on My Taps,” and “That Rhythm, Those Blues” – it shares compelling individuals embodying the human spirit that transcends adversity.

  • George T Nierenberg
    Say Amen, Somebody, No Maps on My Taps. That Rhythm...Those Blues
  • George T. Nierenberg
    Say Amen, Somebody, No Maps on My Taps. That Rhythm...Those Blues
  • Susan Margolin
    Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy, The Rape of Recy Taylor, A Crime on the Bayou
  • Victor Boyd
    Key Cast
  • Danielle Davidson
    Key Cast
  • Billy Toto
    Key Cast
  • Kalyn McKenzie
    Key Cast
  • David Leach
  • Ray Angry
    The Roots, Descendant, Inside Any Schumer, Life & Beth
  • May Kindred-Boothby
  • Bonnie Greenberg
    Music Supervisor
    RGB, Cracked Up, The Hunting Ground
  • Keith Brown
    Consulting Producer
    Executive Vice President, ExecutiExecutive Vice President, Firelight Films
  • Paul Barnes
    Comsulting Editor
    The Roosevelts, Unforgivable Blackness, Jazz, Jack Johnson, The War, The National Parks
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 30 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    May 31, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    1,384,463 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom, United States
  • Language:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director - George T Nierenberg