Bioethics, Autonomy and Liberty of Movement Narrative Power

This article was first published on October 13, 2019, by Bioethics.net "Where the World Finds Bioethics." 
THE LURE OF THIS LAND is a feature-length documentary by  Alexandra Lexton.  Lexton is a consummate film professional, writer, and narrative educator now stepping into the director’s chair. This work expresses a gentle passion for extracting primary motivating forces driving atypical protagonists.  THE LURE OF THIS LAND (LOTL) is a filmic exploration of individual autonomy manifested by self-determination through the liberty of movement

Here, autonomy is defined as the right of individuals to define and act in their own best-enlightened self-interest. Competent people are allowed to knowingly take risks with which many would not dare nor agree. In fact, some of this film's risk-takers might be considered less than competent and certainly quirky by virtue of their devil may care attitude. Shifting geographies is the essential mechanism through which those featured in The Lure of This Land have sought self-actualization. Their journeys reflect the principles set forth in The Freedom of Movement amendment adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1999. The amendment states that, “Liberty of movement is an indispensable condition for the free development of a person.”
Director-Producer Alexandra Lexton 
Cultures are groups of people who draw a circle around themselves encompassing specific characteristics. Lexton’s protagonists have come from a broad range of backgrounds, most are first or second-generation ex-patriots making homes in Belize. Many of those interviewed hail from far-flung places but also some from nearer neighbors. Those asked but who chose not to be interviewed did so for reasons so complex as to warrant a separate film. Above all else, THE LURE OF THIS LAND is about people who move…  SPOILER ALERT: You do not always get a storybook ending in the documentary. Exercising rights is not a panacea but more often a struggle. They chose to move to Belize.
 Belize’s GDP ranks among the lowest in the world. The nation no longer has natural economic resources to harvest. The mahogany is gone with the British and the wealthier American neighbors to the North. Lexton’s Belizean expatriates appear to be those heeding the call of the better angels. Bordered by Guatemala, the Great Barrier Reef jungle, rain forests, and Mayan World Heritages sites—the nation is hemmed in to the Northern Triangle of Central America from which many strive to escape. Each of the film’s characters operates from different religious, socioeconomic, and cultural bases. But, there is an overarching theme between the protagonists. Their need for freedom of movement, Human Rights and protection of the environment are interdependentand they know it. 
As LOTL rolls, savvy public health, scientific, and politically astute viewers want to ask, “What about Belize’s high rates of… HIV/AIDS, deaths of youths by a car wreck, rampant cardiovascular disease, persistent malaria, risks to the great barrier reef, or conflicts with Guatemala?” “This is not that film,” Lexton clarifies during her interview. She proudly states “You make the film you get.” Lexton commands viewers to attend to what you can learn from the narrative not what you don’t—though she recognizes an alert audience stimulated to know more is always an honor. 
In clinical practice, other helping professions, and research, workers are obligated to intersect with people about whom they have little understanding. Catchwords like ‘diversity’ and ‘disparity’ abound in professions as shortcuts. But they are almost always euphemisms for race and class. There are characteristics of people who are not dependent on socio-economic indicators but something of a more innate human condition than the man-made. THE LURE OF THIS LAND defies the use of simple reductionist paradigms for how its characters simultaneously alike and different.
The power of documentary film applied to bioethical thought is in the demands made on the listener to engage in hearing complex narratives well enough to explore their meanings. Initially, the verbal expressions of those people in the LURE OF THIS LAND seem as foreign as Klingon. Lexton lets us see how different these wanderers are from linear thinkers. The magic of Lexton’s integration of the unique environs and these people forces us to practice not just listening but truly hearing. 
The film’s process digs a berth into the audience’s way of seeing things. LOTL provides an alternative narrative structure to the dominant ones on expatriation. Surprisingly this screen work changed the writer of this review’s biases. Those biases were generally negative towards expatriates from wealthy nations—assuming that they all were taking up digs and living above the standard of their new home’s majority peoples. Changing points of view is a good thing for bioethicists and are, in fact, a part of our jobs.
Another secret weapon of THE LURE OF THIS LAND is that the film turns the popular “migration under duress” paradigm on its head. How self-determination, not self collapse, manifests as liberty of movement clarifies that ‘migration’ is not running away but toward. ‘Migration’ may be on a continuum with, but is not the same as, being a refugee or seeking asylum. This film posits that the intuition sparking migration derives from the well-spring of self-realization, not terror. The liberty of movement is the visible sine qua non of autonomy whether it be switching home geographies or choosing how one saunters down a street. 
In this little movie, Alexander Lexton forces viewers to pass through the looking glass into a world were people consciously attempt to escape arrested development. THE LURE OF THIS LAND is a gift that can help bioethics expand the understanding of autonomy.

Screening Contact Information  HERE


This article was original Published  on Bioethics.net "Where the World finds Bioethics"  September 9, 2019 and is copied here with that publications peremission. 
ASK DR. RUTH  by director Ryan White shows the personal lifestyle of the 90-year-old sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. That lifestyle is simple—work, family, home, friends, and the familiarity of happy spaces. It’s a life most people, particularly elders, want to enjoy. White’s film intertwines that norm with the doctor’s unfathomably complex personal, professional and psychological underpinnings. At a height of 4 foot 7 inches, hormones and the assaultive stresses of world history have denied Dr. Ruth a body size reflecting her true stature. What Dr. Ruth lacks in height is more than compensated by a giant intellect and humanitarian zeal.

Photo courtesy of  ASK DR. RUTH, courtesy Hulu Originals film
Six months before I ever saw the famous Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report hailing the beginning of what would soon be called the AIDS epidemic, I heard Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s unique voice over the radio, foreshadowing a dangerous future. I knew about it already, having lost a friend who was among the index cases. Dr. Ruth talked about a new deadly, maybe sexually-transmitted, blood-borne disease on her radio show, Sexually Speaking (WYNY-FM, New York)  that I could sometimes hear at medical school in Omaha, Nebraska when atmospheric conditions were just right. Dr. Ruth’s message was a clarion call for more research, compassion and care for the victims of this mysterious illness. Until then, I had never heard a direct command on any FCC-controlled airway to “use condoms,” never mind the implication that such use is an act of love in itself.
Seeing Ryan White’s ASK DR. RUTH clarified for me why this particular sex therapist might have chosen to take the ethically dicey move of ‘outing’ AIDS prior to the CDCdeclaring the epidemic. Buried somewhere between beneficence and justice is always the protection of innocent parties. White’s film helped me understand how Dr. Ruth might be among the best equipped to recognize the difference between moral ambiguities and moral imperatives.
As important as the historical backdrop of Dr. Ruth’s career as a sex therapist, her story is also the tale of a woman who is now in the ‘Old, Old’ phase of life. Aging may be even more universal than sex itself since it starts from the moment of birth, and on Ruth it looks darn good. Throughout the film, the director depicts the doctor gathering and summarizing information that helps her make sense of her life. She’s a therapist by training and nature, and hard-wired for the task.
Born Karola Ruth Siegel, she became Dr. Westheimer after marrying her dearly beloved late husband, Fred. Ruth is a tightly packed powerhouse of a woman, who throughout ASK DR. RUTH is often depicted giggling. In one scene, our hero asks Amazon’s Alexa,’“Who is Dr. Ruth Westheimer?”. Alexa responds straight from Wikipedia,”Ruth Westheimer (born June 4, 1928), better known as Dr. Ruth, is a German-American sex therapist, media personality, and author…”
The simplicity of the response also makes Ruth giggle. This is most likely because the doctor is more inclined to state what she is not,than what she is.Ruth claims that she is not ‘a feminist’ and that she is not ‘political’. She is not ‘a person who will ever touch a gun again’—despite having been a trained sniper by the predecessor of the Israeli Defense Forces in British Mandated Palestine. Dr. Ruth explains that she is not a “Holocaust Survivor”. She believes calling herself such demeans those who died or lived through unspeakable horrors of Auschwitzand other venues of atrocities.
The language that Ruth uses to identify herself (in any of her four languages) is “Holocaust Orphan.” In her life she has been a mother, a grandmother, a sex therapist, author, educator, and friend. Trained in psychology, sociology and holding an Ed.D., Dr. Ruth’s light bubbly nature does not hide the precision of her choice of words.

Photo courtesy of ASK DR. RUTH through 
Hulu Originals film
The film takes the viewer on a tour of the most sustaining places of her life. White allows the protagonist to guide the camera in the present tense. Dr. Ruth’s youth is depicted through animation—the go-to approach of the current documentary film era. Though memoirs are generally as much an invention of memory as truth, this film had great luck: Ruth was always a writer, one who kept and held onto journals . Those writings and a handful of photograph were used to create the animated sequences in ASK DR. RUTH
The process of creating a film is as important as is the final product. Good filmmakers, crew and stars blend to make more than something to be seen on the screen. White’s ASKS DR RUTH comes from a place that is weary of just documenting despair, opting to show how one triumphs over it. Dr. Ruth’s story is not exactly a Horatio Alger tale. Under her own steam and given a chance to not die in the Holocaust, she became a single working mother and student. Late in her life she found the strength to face the specific documentation of the murders of her parents during the Holocaust, a task she had previously avoided for most of her adulthood.
ASK DR. RUTH helps us makes sense of the remarkable resilience of Karola Ruth Siegel—a girl who was given refuge during the Holocaust. There are other unaccompanied children like Karola sitting on borders around the world and in the country of this writing. ASK DR. RUTH is a gift from Ryan White to us. But what do you think Karola wants from us? I would bet it is the chance for other children to live long lives dedicated to acts of love.  
FOR MORE on Ask Dr. Ruth go to Information and Screening HERE



NIGHT AT THE GARDEN—Conversation on Moral Intuition with Director Marshall Curry

by September Williams, MD

This article was first published by Bioethics.net the online arm of the American Journal of Bioethics http://www.bioethics.net/2019/04/a-film-review-a-night-at-the-garden-conversation-on-moral-intuition-with-director-marshall-curry/ Posted on April 28, 2019, at 6:02 PM

Boarding my flight from Burbank, I flicked through my phone emails, finding that director Marshall Curry was available for interviews. It was a few weeks before the Academy of Film Arts and Science 2019 shindig. I had not seen Curry’s most recent film nor had I realized it was now also nominated for an OSCAR® in the Best Documentary – Short Subject category. This new work is added to his eight films since 2005 with their 38 awards and nominations. The new film is A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN — The title references New York’s iconic venue, Madison Square Garden. 

Photo attached by courtesy of photographer Bill Johnston Caption: Marshall Curry in Conversation with September Williams
I clicked on the email link. The run time was 7 minutes. A bit longer than the usual for a trailer, I thought. But what do I know, nobody ever nominated me for an ACADEMY AWARD®. Seeing the first few frames of Curry’s film, everything around me seemed to grind to a halt. Seven minutes wasn’t the length of a trailer but the whole film. It had been culled from hundreds of hours of 1939, black & white, newsreel camera footage. A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN shows twenty-thousand Americans at a gathering of the German-American Bund. The event was billed as a “Pro American Rally.” They lifted their arms in Nazi salutes, toward American Flags and a portrait of George Washington. This gathering took place a historical breath before the USA would enter WWII against the Nazis. Given the linkage between the development of bioethics to the atrocities of fascism associated with that war, it was clear that on my arrival in San Francisco I would head straight to interview Marshall Curry. 
Curry’s film enhances the understanding of fascism while illuminating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control; (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
The Nuremberg Doctors Trials circumscribed the need for Article 25 which is operationalized by the Nuremberg Code, The Declaration of Helsinki, and the Belmont Report. These are the roots of the policy basis and the discipline of biomedical ethics. Article 25 makes the prima-facie argument for the protection of vulnerable third parties at risk to be preyed on by societies, professions, and individuals. 
A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN’s seven minutes adheres to the Aristotelian plot curve (the narrative Holy Grail) with near metronomic precision. People seem to absorb stories best when the narrative establishes characters, setting, plot turning points, and the climax of conflict for the main characters, in that order. The final point in the plot curve is the resolution of the conflict in the story. Notably, there is no resolution in Marshall Curry’s film— leaving the viewer uncomfortable—as the director and history wants us to be. 
The film climaxes when Khun (the head of the American Nazi Bund) has his fascist rant interrupted by a 26-year-old plumber’s helper from Brooklyn—Isadore Greenbaum. Greenbaum yells, “Down with Hitler!” This results in Bund Guards dragging the protestor around the stage, beating him, tearing off his clothes, particularly his pants, maximizing the victim’s humiliation. Khun at the podium, flanked by young boys in brown shirts, laughs. Greenbaum is subsequently arrested by New York City Police. The plight of Mr. Greenbaum is the film’s climax though it is not the cinematic origin of the documentary.
A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN’s website is filled with archival material and director interviews in part because of Marshall’s collaboration with Field of Vision. Field of Vision is a filmmaker-driven documentary unit which resources works of universal importance. Historically, bigotry is a tool of fascist ideology worldwide, including in the USA. In a given setting, fascism exploits the differences between people rather than promote similarities. The exploitation is usually in the service of the benefit of some group perceiving an economic threat to themselves. Anti-Semitism, racism, and heightened nationalism lead to fascists hallmarks of scapegoating and murdering of visible minorities in a given region.
Devaluation of groups, including German Americans, over time in the USA likely, left a hole to be filled by (German) Nationalism and its path to fascism. But all of that is the low hanging fruit of purpose for A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN. I searched for the film’s website but did not see the answer to my key question. So, I asked Marshall Curry, “What was the moment when you knew you had to make this film?”
The director paused, then explained. A cameraman had caught one of the brown-shirted pre-adolescent Bund boys flanking the stage behind Khun. The child was hopping up and down with glee, air punching, trying to get closer to the frenzy of Khun’s guards and policemen ripping apart Mr. Greenbaum’s dignity. The kid was spoiling for a fight, giddy and enthralled with the power of attacking a single man with many. During the early review of the newsreels, that child triggered Curry’s moral intuition.
Curry’s perspective is reflective of his being both a father and educated in the field of Comparative Religion. He saw the misplaced zeal in the indoctrination of the children in the film. He was appalled by the absence of special provisions to avoid the abuse of young spirit captured by the camera lens. One wonders what level of loss of dignity does it take to foster fascism? No one’s self-worth should be conditional on destroying that of others—particularly not children’s. To make it so is tantamount to firing bullets through those young heads. We see it in child soldiers—domestic, foreign, current and historical—leaving ramifications running deep in our emergency rooms and clinics.
As a parent whose children’s ages mirror those in his film, Curry expressed the icky feeling that recognizes moral violations. Children are “vulnerable third parties,” and there is a special ethical obligation to their well being and protection. The young, old, sick and infirm are historically defenseless and abused. Dr. Abraham Maslow’s motivational theory of behavior is another related approach to maximizing the best potential of individuals. That night in 1939 at The Garden, there was no respect for health, peace or the special consideration due to children by Article 25 of the UDHR. In fact, the UDHR represents a leap in human consciousness not documented until 1946 with the inception of the United Nations.
Where did they go—those twenty-thousand fascists who were present that night at The Garden? They became invisible as the USA entered WWII on the side of the Allies—invisible but not absent. Daily the news reminds us fascism is uncloaking. Curry joked that as the youngest of many siblings, he came to support the underdog—which by birth position was usually himself. But he is more complex than that. In our century’s mayhem, Marshall Curry’s exquisite documentary short film, A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN, uniquely beckons us to resist crimes against conscience, humanity, and children.
Director Marshall Curry requests A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN, be shared ubiquitously by all means possible including online. See Curry’s other credits and upload A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN here


I AM MARIS: Portrait of a Young Yogi Managing Anorexia Nervosa by Her Own Hand

This article was originally published on April 21, 2019, by Bioethics.net  Where the World finds Bioethics

“You are only as sick as the secrets you keep.” It’s a saying used in a wide variety of mental health self-help communities. The phrase is also the apt tag line for Laura VanZee Taylor’s profoundly emotive feature length 2018 documentary film, I AM MARIS (IAM). Taylor along with producer Ariana Garfinkel and— most importantly— the film’s artist-writer-protagonist Maris Degener, document the perpetual state of recovery required to quell manifestations of mental illness. The story copes with the myriad incognito fluctuations of minds burdened with the disease anorexia nervosa. This is a heartwarming optimistic story looking through the tunnel back toward mental health from a position of calm possibility. 

In Maris’ case, allopathy could keep the adolescent anorexic alive but could not help her live a life truly worth living. The latter was the task of a broader approach. Before she started college—and after bouts of anorexic mortal danger—Maris was fortunate enough to find a Yoga practice and community. Compulsions for order were channeled to a healthy affinity allowing the young woman to reclaim her alienated self. She became proficient enough to teach, to become a Yogi, before she was seventeen. 

Yoga has been shown helpful in other liminal spaces of mind-body transition like palliative and end of life care.  Self-expression through art and movement is a tried and true approach to self-reflection, with or without, mental health concerns.  The full therapeutic scope of art and movement therapy has not been fully explored, clinically documented or rationalized across diseases. It’s as if Art Therapy is considered a “no brainer category,” leaving it, like many other complementary therapies, underfunded, antidotally studied and often inaccessible.

I AM MARIS stands out in large part because it is created in Maris’ voice. Director Taylor has the capacity to let “the talent” take the lead.  The protagonist's writings and drawings inform the process of documenting her illness and recovery. Art and writing often appear as self-expression but also as self-medication for those with mental illnesses. Maris’ artwork screamed alienation for years before her diagnosis was clarified. Her images and poetry reflect dire internal realities which caused others to look away from— or rationalize—the artist’s suffering. Good psychotherapy, occupational therapy, art, music, dance, and other movement therapists—given access and time—aid stability in many persons with mental trauma and other mind-body illnesses. 

The viewer hears Maris read from her journals and sees the drawings which had been created during periods of crisis gone by. This is a past tense sensation. In a stroke of filmic genius, director Taylor also chose to animate aspects of Maris' inner thoughts gleaned from her writing and her on-camera interviews. Maris’ words and surrealistic artistic style are adapted for the animation sequences created by illustrator-animator Brandon Eversole. This unique collaboration results in a kind of participatory effect for the viewer— not hearing a flashback—but feeling it in real-time—particularly as the young woman blooms beyond her illness. 

Maris’ mother’s on-screen interviews are an essential through-line in the film. Her mother knows things about her daughter that Maris herself does not know. These segments are profound for their honesty. The mother shares that subtle insidious signs of illness might have been apparent well before her daughter’s adolescence. The turmoil and fears of the girl’s parents are laid bare as well as the joy of this one kid to have found ‘a way’ . Like most thoughtful parents, Maris’ were loathed to slot their child into a “sick role.” The mother speaks of worries and feelings of guilt for not having ‘caught on’ faster. It draws tears from the audience who understand that the speaker on screen is among the strongest of the strong. She kept and still keeps the faith that her daughter will be safe while simultaneously terrified another shoe might drop.    
Maris’ parents are in good company with their struggle to understand anorexia nervosa. Though awareness of eating disorders became prominent in the USA circa the 1970s, through star power of musicians and actors, such conditions have been documented for centuries. During the latter part of the last century, we thought these sicknesses were narrowly distributed to affluent young White women. Eating disorders are no longer thought confined by race, ethnicity, gender or class. It turns out these diseases are equal opportunity stalkers. Peer recognition of eating disorders’ signs and symptoms is low in college students—the same populations often affected with those diseases. Similarly, medical students show disproportionately high stigmatization of mental illness and suicide--afflictions for which they themselves carry significant burdens.

Latina incidences of anorexia nervosa and identification with eating disorders are as high or higher than White women. Race is defined here as science does—as a social construct. Though important in Maris’ story, her USA census grouping is not the focus of the film. But, race and ethnicity are worth mentioning here. Maris grew up in an affluent to middle-working class, smaller community in California. There were few people of color in her school. Maris’s family, like many, is blended multi-racial and multi-ethnic. Maris is visibly Latina as is her mother. On direct questioning, director, Taylor, explained that during filming Maris did exchange some thoughts touching race and ethnicity—or being ‘the other,’ especially in school. To be clear, race and ethnicity is not the focus of  I AM MARIS. The exclusion of that dialog was one of many “good calls” which director Taylor made—opting to make mental illness and its management the peak of attention.  

It is the universal qualities of mental illnesses, their manifestations, and the need for expanding tools of care for which IAM makes a clarion call. The point of the film is not how people are different but how we are the same, or at least on the same spectrum. But, IAM also underscores that the Yoga therapy saving Maris’ life is an alternative not often accessible to all because of cost and limits on therapeutic ingenuity. Despite them being cheaper than almost any psychoactive drug, as well as economic terrains.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act acknowledges state licensed clinicians' right to prescribe complementary therapies, but it only begins to lay a foundation for normalizing use of those strategies. Insurers still are not obligated by law to pay for non-allopathic therapies other than acupuncture. Even now, amid recognition of epidemic pain disparity, opioid addiction, mental and physical pain crisis, Traditional and Complimentary therapeutic management of these illnesses are being ignored. Maris was fortunate to be in a community which could absorb the cost of her most valued treatment—Yoga. 

Maris Degener’s journey toward recovery is ultimately self-guided. There is magic in movement. During the buzz of the 2018 film awards season, magnificently heavy with works by and about women, a little film, I AM MARIS tiptoed onto the scene quietly. It challenges professional and societal sole allegiance to magic bullets and psychotherapy for managing mental illnesses, teaching that the compliments of the Arts and the wisdom of the ages may do better. 

I AM MARIS is available on Netflix  For more information see I AM MARIS .


ROMA: Bioethics and the Mobius Loop

                                         Production still compliments of Mill Valley Film Festival
                                         Alfonso Cuaron with actress Yalitza Aparicio

It is difficult to describe the number of ways that writer-director Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-biographical ROMA represents an Ichthian leap in cinema. There are no special effects to speak of, no costumes except at a New Year’s Eve party cum fire. To compare the film with the level of change that Italian Neorealism presented in the middle of the last century seems strident, yet true. Equally valid is the sense that this film represents the 7th Art at its best in both the creative and technical expression of cinema. There is not a super hero among them — but a sense of magic at the level of Murakami’s Wind Up Bird  Chronicle or Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle.  It is a universal film from the soul of a Spanish master.  
Written by a man, ROMA is defined by the relationships between three women and their children. There is little or no chatter—The movements, expressions and geography are left to tell the tale. The women are of three generations one an elderly woman sharing a home with her daughter and grandchildren. The daughter is approaching middle age, brilliant in her own right, and a mother of three. The daughter is also a wife, left distraught by a  middle class doctor-husband who has gone cad and ludicrous. Above all other characters rises their Indio maid/nannie, Cleo. Kept company by her roommate, Cleo  transcends everything poverty and servitude. If the Virgin of Guadalupe had corporal form, Cuaron proves it would be that of the actress Yalitza Aparicio whilst playing Cleo, during the turmoil of change in the cross cultural class and gender politics of 1970s Mexico.

The writing  of Roma itself leaps across any venial representations or stereotypes. Swaddled in black and white footage, in a giant  65 mm frame, with layered visual symbolism, ROMA is a breath taking journey. In a season competing with the best Marvel films yet made, and a year of the too close to call superior performances by women actors—What might have been a long shot, ROMA is brought by Netflix, sans color but luminous, decked with subtitles, and surpasses all as it flies over the moon.

Added to the visuals ROMA’s sound is extraordinary. Having seen the film at the Dolby Lab Screening Room (San Francisco) with echo-locating sound technology—the viewer becomes an adroit listener as though sharing a room with the characters. Voices move from the right, left or seemingly ahead of of the viewer.  Fair warning, the subsequent screening of other movies may leave you pining for that sensation of being in the midst of the action. You will crave auditory immersion in other films, less technically adroit,  long after seeing ROMA. 

Twenty is the number of  films I've seen since screening ROMA this past October, 2018. Images continue to drift back to me and make me sigh—when I see a bird fly, a dog bark, or a child cry. There is a purgatory of beauty whipped with pain which is the home where certain souls live. Like birth and death — ROMA closes a circle of which the viewer is unaware of being open until the break is sealed. That new poetic mobius loop, twisted between life and death, catapults ROMA into the realm of bioethics.  

Miyazaki, Hayao HOWL’s MOVING CASTLE https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0347149/


Part II, A PRIVATE WAR: Bioethics meets the Guardians of Truth

Marie Colvin with Mike Wallace (CBS,60minutes) receiving the International Women in Journalism Award Media foundations in 2000.

Time Magazine designated “The Guardians of Truth,”  as its 2018 person of the year. The Guardians of Truth are journalists who risk it all to assure that those who might force their governments to make change have the information with which to guide their quest. Marie Colvin, the protagonist of  A PRIVATE WAR was a woman who notoriously defined the meaning of her life  and journalistic profession by her capacity, and that of her colleagues, to actualized Article 19 of the UDHR. (cf: A MIGHTY HEART). 

The United Nations is history’s best aim at the potential of human beings without the luxury of the naivety of a single generation’s overt success. Every document promoting human enlightenment, including the USA constitution, bears a statement supporting freedom of information. This is the result of the intuition that information is power and, without safeguards,  it will always be coveted by the most powerful to the detriment of the least. In precaution, The UDHR specifically states, in article 19 (of its 30), that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.  

It is a principle by which  Colvin lived and for which she was prepared to die.  Even with that, Colvin verbalized personal and professional responsibility on occasions when she missed the boat. She famously admonished her profession for not seeing the writing on the wall in Rwanda. One million Rwandan Tutsis were killed in only 100 days from April to July in 1994.Virtually no journalist understood and responded until too late.  Whether or not the world would do something about the massacre of innocents if made aware— Colvin knew that they certainly would not have the choice if they knew nothing of the offending incidents. This is because sans information, informed decisions cannot be made by individuals or societies. 

Shortly after in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were signed. Most of those atrocities were manifest using the technology which was created by scientist. In this way, the guardians of truth are not only journalist but those who understand science and its potential applications. The Syrian Journalists' Association (also members of the IFJ) has documented 153 journalists killed, in that country,  since the uprisings of 2011 which lead to the defection of  soldiers from the Syrian army in protest of the governments repressive regime. Among the journalist killed in Syria were American journalists Jim Sokol and James Foley in 2014, by beheading. In 2016, a United Nations official said 400,000 people had been killed in first five years of the Syrian civil war—the vast majority being noncombatants. At the time of this writing the president of the USA claims an unsubstantiated victory in Syria against ISIS and says he plans to pull  US troops out of the  country. 

As of March 2018, Lyn Maalouf, the Middle East research director for Amnesty International has stated that the "International community's catastrophic failure to take concrete action to protect the people of Syria has allowed parties to the conflict most notably the Syrian government to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with complete impunity, often with the assistance of outside powers."

Since 2012 when journalist Marie Colvin was intentionally targeted by the government of Syria, through transmissions from her satellite phone, the International Federation of journalist (IFJ) reports that more than 600 journalist have been killed around the world. Nine in 10 cases remain unpunished. Hundreds of journalist are imprisoned. 

Daily journalist are attacked, beaten, detained, harassed and threatened. Among women journalist surveyed in the 600,000 member IFJ, 24% have suffered physical attacks while working. Before those us in the USA shake their heads at the state of suppression of the press abroad, we must note that the US Present Freedom Tracker, since its launch in 2017, has documented 220 press freedom violations involving journalist and reporters have taken place in the USA.

Mathew  Heineman’s film pushes a  new audience of viewers to experience the world through journalist Marie Colvin’s eyes, emotions and suffering. She is not depicted as a superhero but a woman with flaws and scars who believed she could make a difference if she could get people to listen. A PRIVATE WAR adds  to Colvin’s enduring legacy and  reached out to those free to recognize and commit to protection of the most vulnerable victims of war. For Bioethicist and those who try to understand it, A PRIVATE WAR is a  “must see.”  The film is not only about a woman, or journalist but about an idea that that protects innocent third parties.

Part 1 A Private War: Bioethics meets the Guardians of Truth

A PRIVATE WAR had its USA premiere the opening night of the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF42) October 4, 2018. The screening was prior to Time Magazine having designated “The Guardians of Truth,”  as its 2018 person of the year— and before the targeted killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Turkish Saudi Arabian embassy. Acclaimed documentarian Director Mathew Heineman’s supposed biopic focuses on the  life, career and death of  US born war correspondent for the London Sunday Times, Marie  Colvin. Surprisingly, Heineman has chosen to re-tool his award winning considerable documentary skills to create this, his first narrative film. A PRIVATE WAR is many things, a Hollywood mirror biopic not being among them. Instead, this screen work is a  gift of reality wrapped in art.

Marie  Colvin was killed in Homs, Syria, in 2012— during the second year of the Syrian civil war. This war still continues at this writing and is key to the undeclared World War raging in the Middle East with players from multiple nations beyond the region. Dying along with Marie was the acclaimed French freelance photojournalist RĂ©mi Ochlik. For nearly thirty years  Colvin had covered the “Middle Eastern War beat.”  Her reports uniquely defined the inhumanity of war while she herself role-modeled a hard boiled compassion, accuracy and truth.  She focused on the rights of civilians trapped in the cross-fires of hell on earth. An autopsy conducted in Damascus by the Syrian government concluded Marie Colvin was killed by an “improvised explosive device filled with nails.”  These are the facts but there is more to the film. 

Heineman’s film begins with the image of  a decimated house, in the demolished city of Homs where  thousands and Colvin died. It is so haunting  that the viewer should be forewarned that it will wrench you from your sleep months after the screening. You will scramble to play catch up. The film asks the viewer to choose… “What side are you on?”  Weeks later you will try to understand the history of how the wars in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Iran Libya  Sri Lanka, East Timor and Syria became part of the same war — the war were the most vulnerable, the noncombatants, are used as cannon fodder over near a century. 

Photojournalist Paul Conroy was injured in the attack that took Marie and Remi. He survived to provide context to his colleagues’ final hours.  Crazy with purpose, Colvin had used  her satellite phone to speak—one last time—the truth of the devastation of the civilian population of  Syria. Six years later, in 2018 a Syrian Forces defectors testimony was unsealed by a USA court. The document presented evidence that the forces of Assad, the president of Syria, locked into the slain  Colvin’s phone transmission to target and kill her.  

It is a visually gritty, granular polluted air Colvin breaths. Visually, A PRIVATE WAR ends with that same decimated ruin in Homs where it begins. So why is a film whose story begins and ends in the same place worth telling in yet another way? It is, after all, a story that has been told in documentary filmmagazine articles and in books elsewhere.  Importantly, much of the script is adapted from an interview by Marie Brenner with Marie in Vanity Fair magazine.  That is-- the perspective of the film derives from the war journalist herself telling the world parts of her own story. Therein lay the value. 

Screenwriter Arash Amel’s work was challenging because it is not from the perspective of an onlooker. We know what  Colvin said —because she said it. But how do you show the vulnerability and sometimes confusion she felt? If the purpose of the film was to leave her feeling, not chronological data, the work has succeeded. Context takes a back seat to the main characters reflection of her times at a given moment. 

“Biopic’ is a misnomer —  A PRIVATE WAR is a memoir. You jump geography and timeframes. Strangers appear without announcement of names or titles — as they do in one’s own memory. If we can’t tell why the scene is there  by Pikes performance — shame on us. The burden of Heineman’s complex film is absolutely carried by the power of Academy Award® nominee Rosamund Pike’s portrayal of Marie Colvin.  Pike channels Kate Hepburn, in a role the silver screen actress never played. The  performance is no less astounding for the uncanny likeness to miles of available film and sound footage of the slain reporter. Heineman allows Pike to express the pain and suffering in Colvin’s aging battered body, in her womanhood rattled love,  and  journalistic commitment to truth.  

But all is not dour. Pike’s Colvin masterfully conveys the physical comedy of facial expression as an irascibility when the character jokes. This heightens the contrast when actor also brings an exquisite  portrayal of a body and mind racked with tragedy. The accuracy of the performance even includes the slight imbalance of gait in the mono-optic, eye patch wearing Colvin—whose distant traumatic brain injury had resulted in a lost dominant eye. By allowing Pike to dive deeply into the body of the woman she portrays, Heineman delivers the character’s inner voice.  You can’t write or tell this stuff in words. 

A PRIVATE WAR is not a film for the faint, or even exhausted of heart. The actor’s task was to flip the character’s insides to the outside. Even laughing, Pike’s  Colvin is always only a tear drop away from being left naked and exposed to the devastations of war, post traumatic stress, and survivor guilt. The audience receives the same, as if from a ricocheting bullet.

For more, see Part II of A PRIVATE WAR: Bioethics meets Guardians of Truth at http://www.bioethicsscreenreflections.com