Monday, October 2, 2017

Vital, joyous and as important as life: Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos' BENDING THE ARC

What a thrill, a joy, an unexpected amazement it is to see a new documentary that addresses (other than global warming) one of the most important subjects in our world today -- the right to health care for all human beings -- and does this is a manner that first makes you sit up and take notice and soon has you glued to the screen in wonder, and then in tears -- of thanks -- for the good work the people you've met have done and are continuing to do. If you can sit dry-eyed through BENDING THE ARC, I shall be very surprised. Boy, do we need this movie now!

As directed by the team of Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos (shown above, with Kos on the right) and written by Cori Shepherd Stern, the documentary covers some 35 years, during which its protagonists -- we begin with just three of them; today there are many more -- who've formed a group called Partners in Health (PIH) slowly bring some decent health care to the general populace of Haiti and then go on to Peru, where they help solve the problem of Multi-Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis, eventually help bring relief from AIDS to developing countries, and finally move to post-genocide Rwanda, where we watch and marvel as a fine health care system is developed.

The three (then) young people who form this group are (shown above, from left to right) Jim Yong Kim, Ophelia Dahl and Paul Farmer. We see the steps along the way in each of the situations they encounter and so become aware of, not simply the problems -- plenty, of course -- but how each is tackled and (in some form) surmounted. Initially we may find ourselves thinking, "Oh, some more do-gooders," but soon the good that they are doing countermands most other concerns. It's real. And it counts.

When the movie becomes the most personal, showing us individuals suffering from TB and then AIDS, along with what happens to them, it also hits hardest and strongest. Also powerful and anger-provoking are the near-constant attempts by academics, politicians and the medical profession, as well as the powers that be, internationally (initially, The World Bank is one of these), to undermine the PIH accomplishments, rather than embracing them and helping foot the necessary bill.

The documentary is full of excitement, suspense and surprise, as well as peopled with memorable  characters whom we grow to care about and hugely appreciate, especially some of the patients (shown above and below) to whom PIH ministers and saves, or not, along the way.

Unlike the very lightweight and close-to-embarrassing doc that opened last week, ProsperityBending the Arc makes no claims that its protagonists can save the world. It simply shows us what can be accomplished by smart, caring people who keep trying. What happens to these three is interesting, of course, but in the case of Mr. Kim, it is rather amazing and thrilling -- bringing a much-needed change to one of the world's most powerful organizations.

The titular "Arc" here is that metaphoric "arc of justice," which philosophers of the kindly sort tend to see bending very slowly toward justice for all. While it is difficult, under current American (not to mention much of the rest of the world's) leadership, to even remotely believe in this possibility, Bending the Arc, against all odds, will convince you that this is indeed happening.

My one caveat with the movie is that nowhere does it mention the probable problems that crop up when dealing with dictatorial governments in places where your group needs to provide help. What special arrangement had to be made, for instance, and what was "skimmed off the top"  by government officials? Of course it would not prove helpful to further endeavors to even bring up this subject, I suppose. Just as this sort of thing becomes the price of "doing business" in a corrupt country, it is undoubtedly also the price of doing good. Still, one can't help but wonder how the negotiations worked.

From Abramorama and running 102 minutes, Bending the Arc -- a shoo-in, I would think, for an Oscar nomination -- opens this Friday, October 6, in New York City at the Village East Cinema,and then the following Friday, October 13, in Boston (Sommervile Theater) Los Angeles (Laemmle's Monica Film Center),and Washington DC (Landmark's West End Cinema). On Friday, October 20, it hits San Francisco (Landmark's Opera Plaza) and Berkeley (Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas). If you're interested in arranging a screening for your community, click here then scroll down.

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