Geoffrey Smith: The English Surgeon

Three persons are presented in a parallel montage. An Englishman in his garden preparing for his trip to Ukraine. Henry Marsh is the surgeon, as is the man he is to visit in Kiev, Igor Kurilets, and the patient to be operated for a brain tumour, Marian Dolishny. Between these three the drama lies. Will the two doctors succeed to do a succesful operation on the man from the provincial town, where the people help him by collecting money for his operation? But this is just the dramatic engine of this unique, touching film about an outstanding, humble and humourous English doctor, who wants to help other people. As simple as that. A film that is rich in layers and beautiful in its humanistic approach and message. And sometimes tough to watch, Marian being awake during the whole operation!

The film is also about a friendship between two men from different cultural and materialistic backgrounds. A friendship that started around the end of the USSR and the start for Ukraine to enter market economy. Igor has a private clinic, dreams about getting a hospital, and Henry transports equipment to him and works for free. When Henry arrives to Kiev, he goes directly to the clinic where people queue up to have his opinion on their brain tumours – to be operated or a lost case? It is very often the latter, and the two doctors discuss the ethical question. Should the truth be told, should all hope be taken away?

At the end of this classically built documentary that includes carefully placed music by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, the two doctors take a trip to visit the family of a girl, who was taken by Henry to England to get an operation done that failed. What can I say but thank the director for keeping the film in a non-sensational balance full of respect for his characters and the theme of life and death.

There is a great website for the film with references to clips. And how to buy it.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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