With Doctors Without Borders in the Congo 

living-in-emergency_ambulance.jpg

Living in Emergency
Directed by Mark Hopkins

Medical practice never occurs in a vacuum, but to take the Hippocratic Oath in today's globalized world commits the doctor to ever more complex non-medical entanglements. In no instance is this more apparent than with the doctors who volunteer to work with relief organizations like Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders). In addition to the medical work that tries them, logistical and existential conflicts are magnified under political duress and feelings of alienation abroad. These in turn are captured on tape in the dramatic documentary Living in Emergency.

Following a group of European and American doctors on missions in areas still smarting from escalated civil wars, director Mark Hopkins (who before turning to documentary films worked on features like Wonder Boys) captures no shortage of action. Not only are we witness to one distressing medical procedure after another (the leg of a peacefully anaesthetised patient is sawed off in one of the first scenes), but also to the terrifying responsibility that Western-trained doctors face when left to work in the field alone, without the diffusing effect of committees, hospitals or infrastructure.

Aside from private stress, Hopkins captures interpersonal clashes, often stemming from language, cultural or professional differences. Perceiving Western aide as a hostile infringement, one doctor from the Democratic Republic of Congo, his pride clearly hurt, yells to our cameraman witness: "Tell your doctors to talk to me like a doctor and not like a small boy." On a lighter note, we also see loose-lipped doctors at happy hour. One volunteer disses the red-tape inaction of other NGOS: "[MSF] offers...none of that touchy feely [stuff] ... If I met some guy from UNICEF who told me he had seven meetings in the last 24 hours about all the theoretical programs that might happen in the next three years, I'd say fuck off."

While by no means an expose on MSF, Hopkins' film captures do-gooders confronting the limits of their own idealism under excruciating conditions, documenting how the emphatic impulse functions, or malfunctions, in the global village.

Opens June 4

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