Posted by: greercn | April 7, 2011

Living In Emergency

Being inured to the blood and guts of surgery, it surprises me when others are squeamish. This excellent documentary about work done by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)  in war zones shows the detail of medical treatment under basic conditions, in isolated locations and during wartime.

How different this is from the standard operating theatre! To see people who have worked in teams make life and death decisions on their own, miles from sterile conditions and by themselves is very humbling. I really do want to run away and join them.

The movie centres around past fighting in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and you get to spend time with astonishingly brave and devoted professionals.

A “15 and over” certificate is due to “strong medical gore” rather than being caused by the fact that you’re in war zones. I guess the censors feel the kids are more used to watching endless violence than limited surgery.

With a focus on two new volunteers and two seasoned pros, you see  the range of personalities and situations who work within this delightful anti-bureaucracy organization. Chris Brasher (Australian, very witty, handsome – I have such a crush on him) speaks straight to my heart when he has a gentle go at NGOs that have “seven meetings” before doing anything.

Davinder Gill, Tom Krueger and Chiara Lepora discuss the challenges they face with noted eloquence. This is all done in a “warts and all” format. The problems they face are described in depth and they just get through them, with no committee meetings.

This is not an advertisement for MSF. It’s very raw and real. Mark N Hopkins skirts over some basic questions, such as whether MSF’s style fuels the egos of those addicted to danger and short-term postings.

Can I fault it for that? No, because it’s not the point. The viewer may wish to consider those questions afterwards. While you are watching, you are too enmeshed in the stories and you want to know what happens next.

Hopkins has made a very good movie that provides a range of situations and personalities.

The Stratford Picturehouse audience was very quiet and paid rapt attention to the screen. Regular readers will know that is not always true here. They did, however, go “ew” at some of the surgical scenes.

While I am issuing warnings, be aware that there is also swearing, smoking, drinking and sexual references. I am not bothered, but you may be more perfectionist about the world’s temptations. 

Afterwards, there was a question and answer session with Marc Dubois, Director of MSF UK, Ivan Gayton, who works for MSF from their Amsterdam base and Joan Hargan, who spoke about her experience of nursing in war zones for MSF.

It was fascinating. Hearing Joan speak first hand about her postings made it all even more real.

There is a distinctively French and international ethos to MSF which I like a great deal.

Just for once, a movie has galvanised me into action and I am off to find out what I might actually do to assist people who get out there and save lives while politicians chat in meetings. Talk seems less effective than action. You probably knew that.

www.msf.org.uk     in the UK

www.doctorswithoutborders.org    in the USA

www.msf.ca   in Canada

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