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The First Wave

Heineman, Matthew

Last Updated: Apr-18-2022
Annotated by:
Bruell , Lucy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

First Wave documents the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic at Long Island Jewish Medical Center (LIJ) in New York from March through June of 2020.  It opens with a graphic scene of a rapid response team trying to save a patient with COVID whose heart has stopped.  Despite their efforts, the patient dies.  After the team pauses for a minute of silence at the bedside, the grueling work of saving lives continues. 

The film follows Dr. Nathalie Dougé, an internist who was born in the Bronx to Haitian parents. Most of her patients are Black, Hispanic or immigrant.  Two patients with COVID are essential workers: Brussels Jabon, a Filipino nurse who undergoes an emergency C-section after she is brought to the emergency room, and Ahmed Ellis, a school safety officer with the NYPD.  Both have young children and supportive families.

Nurses hold up IPads so families can Facetime with the patients.  It’s terrifying and sad for the families to see the patients on screen and not to be present when they are needed the most. It’s emotionally difficult for the healthcare team as well who are the only ones to hold a patient’s hand during these encounters.  One nurse describes the effect of holding the phone while family members have five minutes to Facetime with patients, “You become the family member, and it seems like you’re losing your family.”

The emotional toll of losing so many patients, while fearing that they too may contract the virus and bring it home to their own families, weighs heavily on the healthcare teams.  They are trained to compartmentalize, to separate work from personal life but their empathetic response to their patients follows them home.  “I think about him every night when I go home,” nurse Kelli Wunsch says of Ahmed. “I just want him to do well.”

Scene after scene of teams rushing to resuscitate a patient who has coded are interspersed with more hopeful moments of a reunion between husband and wife, the sound of the song “Here Comes the Sun” when a patient is taken off the ventilator, and the cheerful encouragement of a physical therapist working to help a patient regain enough strength and mobility to be discharged. At times the camera moves outside the confines of the hospital to the outside world:  Dr. Dougé alone at home with her dog celebrating her birthday with friends over zoom, eerily empty streets during the lockdown, and families anxiously awaiting news from the hospital.  We see bodies taken to refrigerated trucks and people cheering the health workers at 7pm from windows across the city.

In May, when protests erupt following George Floyd’s murder, Dr. Dougé, joins the protest with other frontline workers carrying a sign, “Racism is a Public Health Issue” and ”I Can’t Breathe” scrawled on her surgical mask.  Amid the “I Can’t Breathe” cries of the protestors, she relives the myriad times she has heard her patients gasping those words to her just before they are placed on ventilators. 

Both Brussel and Ahmed become stable enough to be taken off the ventilator and released from the hospital to return home to their families.  Despite their recovery from the acute phase of the illness, it is clear their health remains severely compromised.  As the cheers of the staff in the hospital lobby fade, tough work lies ahead for these patients and their families.    

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Fauci

Hoffman, John; Tobias, Janet

Last Updated: Mar-14-2022
Annotated by:
Yin, Ellen
Salman, Akbar

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video — Secondary Category: Performing Arts /

Genre: Film

Summary:

“The Jesuit philosophy is ‘Men for Others,’” states Dr. Fauci, the titular subject of the documentary Fauci, as he explains how his public school experiences informed his medical career. Indeed, it sets the tone for the rest of a film that traces the beginning of Dr. Fauci’s career as an infectious disease physician through to his role in the creation of PEPFAR, the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and his present day responsibilities in the current pandemic. The documentary bounces primarily between the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In both, we see that Dr. Fauci stands as a figure of great controversy, and we are shown his thought process in navigating the court of public opinion.

The film starts off interviewing Dr. Fauci about his childhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where he was exposed to the Jesuit philosophy that would dovetail with his choice to go into public health service when he was drafted into the Vietnam War. Though he began his medical career with aspirations for a private practice on Park Avenue, Dr. Fauci realized that his true calling lay in “trying to figure out diseases that people were dying from” at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases where he soon faced one of the greatest public health challenges of the 1980s – piecing together a way to combat a mysterious new disease that was killing more and more Americans. 

This, of course, sounds very familiar to the intended audience of the documentary. It is a parallel that Dr. Fauci himself is well aware of, stating that COVID-19 feels like a “diabolical repeat” of his experiences in the 1980s but that “the difference is [the] divisiveness dominating COVID-19 . . . we’re going to get through it in spite of this divisiveness and this politicization. We’re not going to get through it because of it.” The film leans heavily into this contrast, showcasing the evolving attitudes of many AIDS activists as Dr. Fauci went from “the enemy” to a man sitting in on ACT UP meetings and engaging in a dialogue that would culminate in a historic address at the 1990 International AIDS Conference – an address that highlighted the need for physician-scientists to incorporate the feedback of the individuals they were trying to help and reminded activists of the compassion that physician-scientists have for their patients. 

In the scenes taking place in 2020, we see an explosion of both positive and negative press coverage of Dr. Fauci as the COVID pandemic kicks into high gear. His inconsistencies regarding mask guidance, his direct challenging of President Trump, and his struggle to deal with increasing death threats against himself and his family are put on full display. The documentary does not shy away from showcasing Dr. Fauci’s vulnerability with multiple instances of a tearful Fauci recounting the deterioration of many of his AIDS patients and the “post-traumatic stress” that those experiences induced. These moments of vulnerability are threaded in with images of and commentary from his wife Christine Grady and his daughter Jennifer, a clear attempt to give us a sense of Anthony Fauci the human being and not just Dr. Fauci the public servant. 

As the film draws to a close, Fauci and his wife take a walk through the COVID-19 Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC. “When you're involved in a race to stop a horrible disease, you always feel like you’re not doing things quickly enough, or well enough,” he reflects. “One of the most mysterious aspects of our universe is how viruses have transformed our civilization . . . And the one thing I can hope for . . . is that emerging infections do not inevitably become pandemics . . . I am optimistic that the lessons that we’ve learned will prevent that from happening.” After watching this documentary, it is an optimism that is easy to share. 

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Dopesick

Strong, Danny

Last Updated: Jan-12-2022
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: TV Program

Summary:

The eight-part TV miniseries, Dopesick, is a nonfiction, scripted drama inspired by Beth Macy’s nonfiction book of the same title. The creator, Danny Strong, was a writer of all but one episode, director of two, and an executive producer of them all. Beth Macy served as an executive producer and contributed to the writing and updated the reporting. 

In a Kaiser Health News (KHN) panel discussion about the series with Danny Strong, Beth Macy, and three KHN staff members, Strong said his original goal “was to dramatize all this, was to create a clear record of what Purdue Pharma did.” But when Macy joined, his goal expanded “to show the victims and to hopefully redefine the stereotype of addiction...[and] ultimately our goal was to show a path forward.”

The miniseries conforms to these goals. Across the eight episodes, the drama mostly swirls around the direct connections among Purdue Pharma, one physician, one particular patient (and family), one small town in coal mining country, a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigator, and a U.S. Attorney (Western District of Virginia). In hewing to Strong’s original goal of portraying Purdue Pharma’s responsibility for igniting and fanning addiction to its product OxyContin® (oxycodone HCl), the drama reaches its climax when the company agrees to criminal charges for named executives and a financial settlement in 2007. 

Different episodes touch on other goals about the stigma associated with addiction and access to medication-assisted treatments. While Strong met his goals, he acknowledges the real-life drama didn’t end with the 2007 settlement. He previews what was to come: Purdue Pharma redoubling its sales efforts, the addiction crisis worsening over the subsequent fourteen years, and the continuing efforts to bring Purdue Pharma and its owners (the Sackler family) to their knees.

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Annotated by:
Field, Steven

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Most of us are aware that the discipline of Palliative Care, with its focus on excellent pain management, other comfort measures, and psychosocial and spiritual counseling, has made a dramatic difference in the way patients are treated near or at the end of life.   However, for most of us, knowledge of Palliative Care is usually limited to how it functions in so-called “first world” countries.  What is Palliative Care like in areas around the world that have less-effective systems of health care delivery? 

Lucy Bruell’s documentary, Oli Otya:  Life and Loss in Rural Uganda, aims to tell this story.  Bruell, an award-winning documentarian (and coincidentally—and full disclosure—the Editor-in-Chief of the NYU Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database), follows a husband-and-wife team, an internist and a palliative care specialist, who travel each year to Uganda to volunteer with a small palliative care service based in a rural hospital.  Along with the team nurse, nursing assistant, and spiritual counselor, and a medical student who has accompanied them for this trip, they see patients in the hospital, the clinic, and most of the time, in the patients’ homes, often covering many miles in a day in this rural area of the country. 

It is the stories of these patients that constitute the heart of the film.  A woman who has been catastrophically burned in a revenge crime, a man with metastatic cancer who can no longer walk, a woman with end-stage rheumatic heart disease who insists on gifting the team with a live chicken for their work, a young man with a progressive neurodegenerative disease whose mother ascribes his behavior to demons—we meet these and other patients as the team makes its rounds, interacts with villagers and herbalists, and fights to overcome shortages of critical medicines.

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An Enemy of the People

Ray, Satyajit

Last Updated: Aug-09-2021

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In this 1989 Bengali-language film, the director and screenwriter Satyajit Ray presents an arresting contemporary reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People. In Chandipur, India, Dr. Ashoke Gupta treats an increasing number of patients with hepatitis and jaundice. After some patients die, Dr. Gupta fears that the town could succumb to an epidemic. A water quality report reveals that bacteria contaminate local sources, and that the pollution lies in the town’s most populous area. Further complicating the crisis is Dr. Gupta’s determination that the holy water distributed at a new Hindu temple is culpable for sickening visitors. Eager to publish the findings in a local newspaper and advocate for the closure of the temple (a major pilgrimage destination) until the contamination is abated, Dr. Gupta must contend with his younger brother, Nisith, and other municipal bureaucrats and journalists who suppress his findings to protect the tourism revenue. The physician struggles to communicate medical information to a population deluded by religious superstition and deceived by avaricious leaders.

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is an exuberant film by and about people who have been marginalized on screen and in their lives. It opens with black and white archival footage of Camp Jened, a quirky, free-spirited, counter-culture summer camp for disabled teenagers in New York’s Catskilll Mountains. One camper called it a utopia. The second and longer part of the film follows several former campers into their adult lives. They become parents, spouses, professionals, and disability rights activists at a crucial historic moment for disability legislation. Both parts of the film propose that the liberty and solidarity experienced at Jened emboldened several of the campers to seek opportunity and equality, for themselves and others, in the world beyond their camp.

Located near Woodstock, geographically and culturally, Jened offered a space free from the discrimination the summer residents encountered elsewhere. Campers could engage in uninhibited physical activities, uncensored storytelling, self-governance, mutual caretaking, real friendships, irreverent insider humor, romance, and fun. One powerful scene allows viewers to overhear campers with diverse disabilities share common experiences: being disrespected or ignored at school, overly protected at home, isolated everywhere. Another tracks the campers’ hilarity and pride over an outbreak of “crabs.” One camper declares his counselor’s demonstration of how to kiss, “Best physical therapy ever!” 

While the film’s co-director, former camper Jim Lebrecht, narrates the film, Judy Huemann is its political and moral center. A wheelchair user, she rose from camper to counselor. Huemann was revered around camp for successfully suing the New York City Department of Education for the right to teach. She and several post-campers reunited in Berkeley, California, where they became involved in the Independent Living Movement. An astute leader, Heumann is represented as central to a remarkable 25-day sit-in at the San Francisco Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) offices in 1977. She and her disabled colleagues risked their health and their lives—they slept on the floor and improvised medical necessities—to convince HEW to approve regulations essential for enforcing the anti-discrimination section of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The scene of Heumann’s standoff with the HEW representative is unforgettable. As are the deliveries of food, supplies, and solidarity that the Black Panthers and other marginalized groups in San Francisco provided daily. Other archival footage, including of Heumann and demonstrators stopping traffic in New York City to demand accessible taxis and of protestors abandoning their wheelchairs to pull themselves up the steps of the nation’s Capitol, are startling images of the struggle to secure disability civil rights in the United States. Recently filmed interviews with several of the former campers affirm that, despite the work toward disability justice that remains, they live fuller, more vibrant lives as a result of their experiences at Jened and the legislation they insisted on.

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Joji

Pothan, Dileesh

Last Updated: Jun-13-2021
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

“Grandpa is in quarantine,” Popy tells the delivery man through his face mask in the opening scene. His grandfather was not in quarantine; Popy had ordered an air gun using his account and now needed to conceal it from him. But, because the movie is set during the Covid-19 pandemic, the delivery man could easily believe Popy’s story and hands over the package with the gun.  

Popy is a teenager living in a multigenerational household in India, which in addition to his grandfather, Kuttappan PK Panachel, includes his father, Jomon, two uncles, Jaison and Joji, and Jaison’s wife, Bincy. They live on a sprawling and prosperous plantation Kuttappan owns near Kerala. Imperious and parsimonious, Kuttappan keeps tight control over his domain and family. As the movie begins, we see cracks forming in the family from the continuous pressure he exerts. The pressure affects Joji most.

Though he dropped out of an engineering college, Joji seeks wealth and independence, but his attempts to attain riches yield little until Kuttappan suffers a stroke. From the time of his father’s struggle for survival until his death, Joji plots to hasten his father’s demise and secure the family fortune for himself. Lives are lost, and so are Joji’s aspirations. 

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The Father

Zeller, Florian

Last Updated: Apr-26-2021
Annotated by:
Teagarden, J. Russell

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The basic plot of The Father mirrors the all-too-common trajectory people with dementia follow: first they deny any problems; then they progressively need more in-home assistance; and then they require institutionalization. This scenario, however, gets obscured when watching the film’s main character—the father—wrestle with quotidian activities and familiar faces. The viewers wrestle with him, and become just as confused and rattled. Florian Zeller, the screenwriter and director, admits he wants viewers feeling what people with dementia feel. He succeeds in the movie as he succeeded in the Broadway play version preceding it.

The father, Anthony, lived in his London flat with help from hired caregivers and his daughter, Anne, who lived nearby. After Anthony banished several caregivers on grounds they were unnecessary, Anne moves him into her flat, and when he’s too much for her there, she moves him to a nursing home. We’re never quite sure, though. Zeller makes the two flats and the nursing home look almost identical. He changes Anne’s story at different times: she’s still married after ten years; she’s been divorced for five years; she’s relocating to Paris with a lover; she was never relocating to Paris; she relocated to Paris. Anne appears as a different person on occasion and the husband she may or may never had appears as different people. Zeller overlays these confusing surroundings and events by jumping forward and backward in time, and repeating some scenes with slight variations. Eventually, Anthony says, “strange things are going on around us.” Viewers will feel the same, and that’s the point.

The movie ends as Anthony awakes in his nursing home room. Just as we are lured into thinking we have returned to the common dementia trajectory at its end, we see his nurse is the person who had appeared as Anne before, and his room looks like the bedrooms in both his own and Anne’s flats. We wonder.

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Collective

Nanau, Alexander

Last Updated: Mar-29-2021
Annotated by:
Bruell , Lucy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Colective was a popular nightclub in Bucharest, Romania.  In 2015, a fire broke out during a band performance killing 27 people and injuring 180. The public protests that erupted over the lack of fire exits in the club led to the resignations of government officials, including the Minister of Health.  Within four months of the fire, 37 of the critically burned died, not as originally thought from the burns they suffered, but from hospital- acquired infections.
 
The feature documentary follows Catalin Tolontan, an investigative journalist at a sports newspaper and his team as they track down the cause of the fatal infections.  They are aided by doctors from the hospital who come forward to voice their suspicion that the infection control agents used by the hospital were diluted to the point of being ineffective.  The journalists bring samples to a lab which verifies that the agents were diluted to 10% of their effective strength.  The owner of the company supplying the agents had been engaged in the practice for years.
 
We hear tragic stories from parents whose children died, prevented by “communication errors” from having them transferred to other, better equipped burn units in other European countries.  And we meet the survivors, among them, Tedy Ursuleanu, who, despite her disfigurement, bravely poses for photographs for an exhibit about the event.  The film returns to Tedy at several moments--- she is a reminder of the human tragedy that has caused so much suffering. And we listen to the despair of a doctor who says, “We’re doctors; but we are no longer human. All that matters is money,” as she describes how politics, bribery and greed have taken over the health system and made patients’ lives expendable.
 
This is a story without a happy ending.  Vlad Voiculescu, the newly appointed health minister who previously worked in patient advocacy tries to reform the system and install safeguards against hospital procedures that fall short of accreditation requirements.  But the system proves too strong.  This time political corruption wins over people’s health.


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Born to Be

Cypriano, Tania

Last Updated: Feb-26-2021
Annotated by:
Glass, Guy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Born to Be is a documentary about the trailblazing work being done at the Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery.   

The film’s central figure is Jess Ting, a plastic surgeon who studied music at Juilliard before making a career switch to medicine.   Scenes of him with patients are interspersed with domestic clips where he is at home with his children and playing the double bass.  Just a few years ago Ting had never even performed a single gender-affirming surgery.  He is the first to admit that he did not expect his career to take this turn: “Essentially, they just asked everyone else, and everyone said no except for me.  Everyone thought I was nuts.”  Be that as it may, Ting appears to have found his calling.  In a short time, he has performed well over a thousand gender-affirming surgeries, pioneered new procedures, and helped to start a fellowship training program.  

The stories of several of the Center’s patients are interwoven with that of Dr. Ting.  One client, Cashmere, is a retired sex worker.  Years of botched silicone injections have left her face chronically swollen.   Now in her 50’s, she hopes to have the effects reversed, and to finally undergo the vaginoplasty she has been dreaming of her entire life.  Another patient, Devin, 22, goes through a transition during the course of the film, renaming herself Garnet.  Not withstanding strong family support, years of bullying in school have taken their toll as she struggles with depression. 

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