Saturday, April 4, 2009

film review: An Indomitable English Surgeon & Those Bloody Kozaks

On Sunday, March 29, I had the good fortune to be at the Second Annual Cinema Eye Honors for Non Fiction Films in New York City. It seemed that just about everyone whose films were shown around in the documentary and major film festivals were here tonight and it really did feel like one big party celebrating the filmmaker's achievements. I saw many nominated films at Sundance ORDER OF MYTHS, THE BETRAYAL, MAN ON WIRE including a Sundance Midnight Screening of ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL. I also saw PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL (Tribeca) WALTZ WITH BASHIR (Festival de Cannes), IN A DREAM (Woodstock Film Festival). And while I didn't see THE ENGLISH SURGEON at Hot Docs (Toronto), I heard a lot about the film after it won Best International Feature. I was able to arrange a special screening for the KINO-Q Ukrainian Film Festival in upstate New York before the film was shown at SILVERDOCS, another win with the World Feature Award in Silver Spring, Maryland.

At the Cinema Eye Honors cocktail hour, I met both Geoffrey Smith (director and producer) and Henry Marsh (brain surgeon) and we chatted about THE ENGLISH SURGEON being nominated for Outstanding Achievement in International Feature and in Music Composition having an beautifully sensual, original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. And while they didn't win one of those interesting-looking awards (very spiky and could have been used in place of a surgical instrument) there was all the more interest for seeing the film as it was scheduled to open the spring season of Stranger than Fiction film series at the IFC Center, Tuesday, March 31.

From THE ENGLISH SURGEON website questions become rhetorical with statement like " What is it like to have God-like surgical powers, yet struggle against your own humanity? What is it like to try and save a life and yet to fail?" The trailer starts off with a Once Upon A Time musical rendition as Henry Marsh reflects on these questions and answers with deliberation and the same steadfast determination as his Ukrainian surgeon counterpart and friend, Dr. Ihor Kurilets. Henry has been going out to Kyiv for 15 years with suitcases full of slightly-used equipment that normally would be thrown out after one use. He passes his knowledge of surgical procedures and performs dangerous operations in a Ukrainian hospital full of desperate patients and makeshift equipment. Dr Kurilets, considered a maverick and troublesome by the State system notes that Henry worries too much and as a pioneer focused on creating Ukraine's first neurosurgical clinic in Ukraine, he refers to a painting of Kozaks celebrating after a battle and remarks, " Kozaks are the heroes of Ukraine... and a brain surgeon is just like a Kozak." In the film Henry anxiously scrubs in on another dangerous procedure, and just before entering the operation room mutters, "bloody kozaks, off to battle".

This amazing film has been an Official Selection in over 60 film festivals and is the winner of numerous awards. Geoffrey Smith and Henry Marsh continue making personal appearances to promote THE ENGLISH SURGEON as a way of raising financial support for the neurosurgical clinic. As Henry puts it - "We have to try to make things better."

Check the website for dates on its limited theatrical run. 

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