Georg Zeller: A Second Birthday

I am biased. I have known about this film to be done for years. I was a teacher at the Zelig film school in Bolzano, when Georg worked there, he showed me material that was very interesting, and I met his boy, the protagonist of the film. Now Georg sent me a vimeo link, he wants my opinion and advice on festivals. I decided, that I would only write a review if I really liked this short film on Misha, with his father behind the camera, edited by Marzia Mete, who has helped what could have ended as a private film to be a personal and universal situational documentary of great sensitivity. First about content, Georg has made a fine film synopsis so let him explain with own words:

”Misha is nine years old when the cirrhosis of his liver and his strong malnutrition make a transplant become the only option. The boy has already come face to face with death several times during his young life. He is used to his family’s constant enormous worries, to the long sojourns at hospitals throughout Europe and to a strongly limited life. But his approach to the big questions of life and death, his self–acquired belief in God and his candid and life-affirming interest to the world, broadly contradict the image of a suffering kid and unveil a conscious and experienced soul in the young body. Misha’s father follows him and his family during the months before and after the threatening but life-saving surgical intervention from immediate proximity creating a poetic and optimistic manifesto for organ donation”.

The last words might make you to think that it is a campaign film, it

can of course be seen as such and Georg does right, when he thanks organ donors at the end credits – but the film is first and foremost a fine piece of caressing film art, caressing the pretty, charming and clever boy, who is far too often behind the windows of a hospital looking at the world outside – if he is not playing with kites at the beach, or playing with his sister, conversing with his father or dictating words to his mother for the diary he made after the liver transplantation had been performed.

Georg Zeller is a good cameraman, he composes images so we get far beyond reporting, and he and editor Marzia Mete have found a tone and rhythm that alternates from inside to outside and back again.

Of course it is very emotional to watch the film because the boy is so wonderful alive and you know what he suffers from and you see him lying there after the operation being helped to breathe surrounded by machines and whatever into his nose and skin. It is tough to be there. And then, contrasting, it is a scoop when Misha and his sister Lola towards the end of the film tell the father to stop filming, when they are about to play doctors and operate on a puppet… Georg stopped on this occasion, fortunately he did not when he was the troubled father behind the camera, wherefore he and his family have brought a film to us viewers, which deserves to be shown all over. It makes you smile and laugh – and cry a bit.

Italy, 2016, 33 mins.

PS. I asked Georg for a more detailed explanation of the illness. He answered: The illness is Cystic Fibrosis (earlier called also Mucoviscidosis), a genetic disease which creates a dense mucus in all organs. This makes problems mainly in the lungs (because of tough unbeatable infections), in digestion (Pankreas), and in some other organs. The liver is a problem only in 10% of the patients, but Misha seems to have a quite tough version of CF (there are several thousand different mutations causing this illness). At the moment only symptomatic treatments are available (mainly strong Antibiotics, heavy physiotherapy and Enzyme, Vitamin etc. substitution), but genetic treatments are starting to be commercialized for some mutation types. The life expectancy has risen from less then 10 years in the ’80s, to 35.

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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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