The Documentary Film As Pharmaceuticals Infomercial 


Directed by Eric Merola

Many aspects of The Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski Story seemed suspicious to journalist Craig Malisow as he researched the Polish-trained cancer pharmacist's battle against the FDA for The Houston Press last year. Though witness testmonials and Burzynski's self-funded trials show that the patented drugs he produces in Texas, called Antineoplastons, appear to work, the thought that irked Masilow most was that "Burzynski seem[ed] to have amassed exactly zero outspoken allies in conventional medicine."

If the dearth of allies, of articles in peer-reviewed oncology journals, of support from the FDA, or any cancer organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, is not enough to raise eyebrows, does Burzynski, a documentary by a filmmaker who has worked his whole life for advertising agencies and production companies specializing in paid content, suffice?

In Burzynski: The Movie, director, producer, cinematographer, writer and Burzynski cheerleader Eric Merola forms a narrative that exempts the doctor from peer judgment while also exempting himself from interviewing any Burzynski detractors. This is the narrative that Burzynski himself prefers, one in which he is a beleaguered outsider, a innovator misunderstood, facing a monolith medical culture mired in red tape and pharmaceutical influence, and with much to lose in the event of Burzynski's radically different methodology's approval.

While the injustices of the medical system might merit an advocacy-journalism approach, this documentary's press notes place an unusual emphasis on its objectivity. The press agent, perhaps the protean director himself writing in the third person, explains that Merola (who has not produced any other independent documentaries), only pursued the baldly biased project once he found evidence that exonerated Burzynski from his critics—evidence unavailable elsewhere, but which may or may not be in the film itself: "Mr. Merola relentlessly acquired any and all documentation required to prove that everything Dr. Burzynski had shared was indeed the truth. The evidence that supports this truth is one of the highest forensic standards and hard documentation [sic]. Some of this documentation is internal documentation that was never intended to wind up in the hands of Dr. Burzynski, much less the general public, and especially not a whistle blowing film such as this." Is the "internal documentation" the slow panning footage of Burzynski's self-published articles, the forlorn CG animations featuring constellations of chemical compounds names like Dasatinib and Gefitinib paired with double-helixes spiraling to an ambient musical score, the interview in which the wealthy Burzynski proclaims, "I am working in wartime conditions... working in Gaza Strip," or the testimonies of cancer survivors who attribute their healing to Antineoplastons?

For a filmmaker so purportedly devoted to muckraking, and releasing top-secret evidence to the general public, Merola expresses great tact in avoiding the risk that his viewers wind up hearing any other point of view. The issue over whether Burzynski's medicine works (it just may) won't be answered for viewers, since to parse fact from fiction in a documentary as one-sided as this one would be like distinguishing the celebrity's testimonial from that of the real-life participant in an informercial for Proactiv.

Opens June 4

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