Wednesday June 18, 2008

It was time to continue the theme of personal health journeys. So no better way than now to explore the question of what to do if you knew in advance that you had a genetic mutation that greatly increased your chances of contracting cancer years before it appears in your life. Director Joanna Rudnick produced & directed one of the most intense personal documents you'll ever experience. "In The Family" (*** 1/2) explores her own intimate dilemma of whether to wait or to take immediate action to have her ovaries and breasts removed in order to head off the inevitable. The mapping of the genome has opened up all kinds of research that included the finding that this particular mutation is passed from generation to generation-increasing the likelihood of obtaining both cancers from single digits to up to 85%. Joanna bravely takes us into her world, as well as others who are faced with the same questions, to painfully reveal how the decision they make affects everyone around them-not to mention their possible future generations. Also included into this mix is a no holds barred look into her intimate relationship with someone she begins dating after meeting him online. The filmmaker even touches on the economics of the situation by focusing on the company who has obtained a patent on the mutation and how that monopoly has affected many people who can't even afford to be tested. The film is scheduled to appear a part of the PBS P.O.V. series on October 1.

Next up was an intimate portrait of Dr. James Orbinski, winner of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize as the head of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF-Doctors Without Borders). Director Patrick Reed's haunting "Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma" (*** 1/2) follows the award winner as he returns years later to Somalia and Rwanda, 2 of the several war-torn countries he served during the period of their genocide while other care-takers were desperately fleeing for their lives. The filmmaker explores the dilemma Orbinski faces in dealing with his feelings of utter helplessness in the continual struggle of helping the wounded and the homeless in a world where humanitarianism is constantly being politicized. As a result, "humanitarian wars" have made many organizations think twice about going into these areas-making the existence of the MSF even more urgent and admirable.

From one doctor to another (and the two couldn't be more different!), I ended my day with the D.C. premiere of Academy Award winner, Alex Gibney's ("Taxi To The Dark Side" & "Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room") dazzling bio doc "Gonzo: The Life And Work Of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" (****). The late ex-Rolling Stone scribe is given a humorous, rock-&-roll sendoff in this editing tour-de-force as Thompson's precarious life is depicted in rapid fire images, photos, interviews, and sound bytes galore as Gibney takes you into the fascinating life of the guy who put gonzo journalism into our psyche. Throw in a great sound track, film clips from Terry Gilliam's adaptation of "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas", interviews, and narrations of his work by Johnny Depp (who lived for a spell in the basement of Thompson's house) and you become swept up in the chaotic universe of Thompson's life-which ended with a self inflicted gunshot in 2005. Love him or hate him, you can't help but marvel at one of the most intriguing American characters of the past 60 years. The film is fittingly due to be released on July 4th.