Sunday, January 10, 2010



This time on the podcast, a conversation with Mark Hopkins, director of "Living in Emergency," a fly-on-the-wall documentary film that follows four "Doctors Without Borders"  volunteers in Liberia and Congo as they struggle to provide critical medical care in the face of poor infrastructure, war, and their own personal limitations. The film has been short-listed for an Oscar Award for best feature documentary, and with good reason: it's a compelling portrait of the work of MSF (the French initials of the organization). Hopkins discusses the importance of being independent, how he chose whom to feature, and how he structured the film to connect with audiences. 

Humanitarian work holds a certain romance -- heroically dodging bullets and performing surgery to save the lives that no one else would. There's more than a whiff of colonialism to that romance, the white savior healing the wounded African. But that's not this film. Instead, "Living in Emergency" provides an unvarnished look at the day-to-day operations of this handful of MSF's 25,000+ workers worldwide. They yell at each other. They do their jobs. They dance off their frustration. They disrespect the national (in-country) staff. They wonder if they want to continue the work. All the daily goings-on add up to a greater whole in the film, especially when you consider the enormous needs of people around the world -- 2 billion without access to essential medical care. 

Visit the film's website for information on how to see it, or the organization's website to learn more about volunteering in medical or nonmedical positions.

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