Living in Emergency is the story of four volunteer doctors working for the Doctors Without Borders program (Medecins Sans Frontieres), a relief organization out of Paris, France, whose mission is to provide medical care in war-ravaged countries. This film isn’t for the faint of heart, as filmmaker Mark Hopkins doesn’t hold back on showing you graphic depictions of real-life medical procedures and traumas from brutal war zones. From full-on leg amputation to the unpleasantness of untreated chronic illness, these doctors face things that they would never see in the West. Hopkins follows them -- newbies and veterans alike -- in war-damaged locations like Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and shows men and women who, much like soldiers, share common triumphs, struggles, dangers, and jubilations as they check their idealism and egos at the door.
The film opens with Dr. Tom Krueger, a surgeon out of Tennessee, who starts his first mission with the MSF at the Mamba Point Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, run by Dr. Chiara Lepora, an MSF veteran and women’s rights activist. The hospital was created by the MSF after 15 years of war that ended in 2003, with 250,000 dead and one million displaced. Krueger believes that the severity of the injuries and illnesses of his patients could be avoided if they had a better healthcare system, but is reminded by Lepora that politics are not part of MSF’s mission. Next, Hopkins takes us to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Dr. Chris Brasher returns for his ninth mission with the MSF, but finds it increasingly difficult to come back each time. He’s a hardcore smoker and drinker, and has been running on empty for a long time. Still, his desire to help the people of the Congo is powerful, and upon his return he’s greeted by local children, shares beers with hospital staff, and parties into the night at the local dance hall.
However, for all the good the MSF has done for these countries and its people, Hopkins takes care to point out the organization’s flaws and inconsistencies. Dr. Lepora travels to the nearby village of Foya, a few miles away from Monrovia, to visit Dr. Davinder Gill, a young doctor on his first mission and the only doctor that particular village has seen in 15 years. He’s working in the field, in a situation with minimalist facilities and mounting frustrations. As Gill airs his grievances to Lepora -- the delay in communication, logistical problems, supply shortages, coordination problems -- you see a doctor who has reached his breaking point; as Lepora puts it, “He’s gone mad.” These frustrations with the organization cause many of the doctors to question whether they will come back for another mission, and when the MSF decides that conditions are stable enough to close the hospitals in Liberia and the Congo all together, all of the doctors have a hard time dealing with the reality of the situation.
Living in Emergency is a powerful depiction of parts of the world that you only hear about in quick sound bites on the evening news. These doctors are working with minimal equipment and low-grade medicine, and in the end they’re forced to compromise because they can’t always stop the suffering. As one of the Liberians points out at Dr. Lepora’s going-away party, they embraced her as their own, but never forgot that she’s an expatriate and will eventually leave them; and as hard as it is for her to hear that, she understands the Liberians’ frustrations because they are her own. In the end, the film depicts, with real candor, people finding the ability to live with wrong decisions and dealing with the bureaucracy of an organization that has good intentions but some very big flaws.
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- Released: 2008
- Review: Living in Emergency is the story of four volunteer doctors working for the Doctors Without Borders program (Medecins Sans Frontieres), a relief organization out of Paris, France, whose mission is to provide medical care in war-ravaged countries. This film… (more)