Global Visions Film Series: Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma

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Global Visions Film Series: Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma

Triage presents a unique view of the world through the penetrating eyes of Dr. Orbinski, who refuses to turn away when confronting troubling memories or realizations of the horrific truths of the events that have accompanied him and his colleagues throughout their humanitarian work.

Having seen the best and worst of humanitarian assistance and of humanity itself, Orbinski embarks on his most difficult mission to date – writing a deeply personal and controversial book that struggles to make sense of human hatred, war, and human compassion.

Triage, a feature-length documentary (88 minutes) takes us to war-torn Somalia where Dr. Orbinski was first posted in 1992, and then to Rwanda where he was the MSF (Doctors Without Boarders) Head of Missions during the 1994 genocides. Finally, we travel with him to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo on yet another humanitarian mission.

As Style and arts editor for the Vancouver Film Critics Circle stated, the central focus of the documentary is not the typical movie subject, nor is the story told in the style of a Hollywood movie. The internal anger and frustration felt by Dr. Orbinski as he talks about after witnessing atrocities in Rwanda and Somalia is told with a controlled stoicism, yet the filmmaker Patrick Reed provides the emotional content during these scenes with his lush and powerfully painful photography. Images of seemingly endless landscapes filled with rag tents and miles of famine victims followed by newsreel footage and political commentary provide the context for the complex work that Dr. Orbinski and his colleagues carry out.

The uneasy relationship between humanitarian workers and the security forces they need to protect them, and the hard choices of doctors trying to select who to save and who to let die are all revealed. But the central dilemma of the film lies inside the humanitarian workers themselves. What drives them to endure danger in order to save the lives of fellow humans, a species that appears to be bent on slaughtering each other? How can humanitarian workers return to their families and live “normal” lives after bearing witness to rape victims, torture survivors, and brutally injured children?

The answers come from the shattering of memories kept silent and buried. Bringing them to the surface provides a surprising message of hope and a more profound understanding of the acts of humanitarian aid provided by Dr. Orbinski and his colleages to those suffering from the horrors of human political and economic greed. After bearing witness to such suffering, compassion and commitment remain not only alive, but thriving. This is a keenly important message for every one of us living in today’s complex human arena, and a call to all of us to reach out with compassionate actions, no matter how small,l in order to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans.

Directed by Patrick Reed, Produced by Peter Raymont and Silva Basmajjan. Produced in Canada by the National Film Board of Canada - White Pine Pictures 2007 (88 min. 21 sec.) PG

Marcia Mikulak Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UND

In Addition...

Great Conversation is Oct. 26 with James Orbinski of Doctors Without Borders

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the UND Honors Program is hosting a Great Conversation with James Orbinski Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. In 1999 Dr. Orbinski accepted the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) for its pioneering approach to medical humanitarianism, and most especially for its approach to witnessing.

He is a globally recognized humanitarian advocate, and one of the world’s leading scholars in global health. His work in the areas of access to medicines and health care, medical humanitarianism in war and social crisis, and global health policy will make for a fascinating discussion. The event is also sponsored by the Provost and VPAA's Office, Student Government, and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

In conjunction with the Great Conversation event, the Global Visions Film Series will be showing two related films. "Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma" will be shown the week prior to his visit, on Oct. 19. This 2008 documentary follows Dr. Orbinski on his return trip to Rwanda as he reflects on his experiences there during the genocide, as well as his work in Somalia and the Congo. The week after his visit, on Nov. 2, attendees will have an opportunity to learn more about MSF from "Living in Emergency," a 2008 documentary which follows four volunteers struggling to provide emergency medical care in the war zones of Liberia and the Congo. Both movies will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. The suggested admission price is a $1 donation.

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