Documentary shows tough reality of doctors in war

Sat Aug 30, 2008 10:23am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A new documentary on aid workers in war zones shows the tough choices, dilemmas and limits faced by doctors providing emergency care in extreme conditions.

Shot in 2005-2006 and presented at the Venice film festival, "Living in Emergency" follows four Western volunteers working in Africa for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the French-based aid agency which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Two are new recruits and two are experienced field workers in Liberia after its brutal civil war and in the lawless northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All struggle to cope with a crushing work load, the lack of adequate supplies, and the chaos and carnage around them.

Using graphic footage of emergency surgery and frank interviews with aid workers, the documentary gives a powerful sense of what life in the field is really like for MSF doctors, and stays away from the sanitized images which are sometimes used to make humanitarian work easier for audiences to watch.

"It was very clear from the beginning that we did not want to make some kind of 'cause documentary'. That's a genre like 'everything is going to be okay and here are the heroes'," director Mark Hopkins, who is a dual U.S. and British national, told Reuters in an interview.

"They (MSF doctors) don't view themselves like that, they are humans. They are doing quite extraordinary stuff in crazy situations but ... it would be disingenuous to the actual reality of the situation to turn it into one of those standard cliches."

The documentary shows the material constraints affecting the volunteers' work -- choosing which patient to treat first can mean deciding who will live and who will die, and often there are no other doctors with whom to share the responsibility.   Continued...