Winner of nine International Awards: Screen East Awards, Best Film & Best Documentary; Silver Docs, Best International Documentary; Hot Docs, Best International Documentary; Expresion en Corto, Best International Documentary; Shanghai TV Festival, Best International Documentary; Kos Health Film Festival, Audience Award; Sheffield DocFest, Audience Award; Docudays Kyiv, Audience Award; and, Zagreb, Audience Award.
Approximately an hour and a half in length, the English Surgeon was funded by: The Ford Foundation; The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding was provided by: Wellcome Trust; CBA-DFID Broadcast Media Scheme; and YLE TV2 Documentaries.
Although the DVD jacket cautions viewers that the contents may not be appropriate for all and that viewer discretion is advised, I must caution readers that once you start watching this DVD, you'll be mesmerized by not only the engrossing storyline, but also by the techniques and extremely fine professional work by all who partook in the production of this documentary.
For those expecting to view one and a half hours of brain surgery, you'll be disappointed (the actual neurosurgery doesn't begin until almost an hour into the film, and then segments are briefly shown for a few seconds at a time, lasting about ten minutes in totality). The surgery itself is a segment of the story rather than being a documentary about the procedures of brain surgery. Regular viewers of TV series such as NCIS or CSI regularly see scenes that are very much more graphic/squeamish than those depicted in this film.
The beauty of this documentary is in its presentation--you forget that you're watching a documentary as you get immersed in the stories told. As filmmaker, Geoffrey Smith (nominated by The Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary for 2009), tells: "this is the story of three men, two of whom have a profound relationship, a friendship, and the third one, known as a patient...they all journey to Kyiv...the film follows them through a journey--an operation, and on to recovery." In the process, the film concentrates more on Dr. Marsh as a surgeon--what his life is like, the difficulties and joys of his work, as well as the emotional conflicts encountered. Additionally, throughout the documentary, some of the other cases on which Dr. Marsh is working are shown; each case is different, as is each prospect.
Although the English Surgeon immediately captures and captivates audiences, as if watching a film, this isn't a work of fiction--it's a documentary portraying real-life experiences, and as such, you pay acute attention, for it's about a possibility that could affect not only you, your family, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors, but also strangers you may occasionally pass in public places. Dr. Marsh loves using his hands, and he loves using tools--he utilizes both very aptly, as they complement his life's chosen career and occupation.
The characters in this film are the real-life souls narrating their personal life scripts--the surgical team, the patients, the hospital staff, the family members, and others. Not only is the story personal in a very real sense, but the scenes are varied (taking place in a hospital, in a physician's home, traveling through the countryside, visiting a patient's home, etc.) with film footage from two countries, the variety and pace of this documentary become all the more engrossing and enthralling.
This is a film of contrasts: a fireplace in England vs. a fireplace in Ukraine; a religious photo on a calendar in an English hospital (St. Georges Hospital in London) vs. a large embroidered tapestry with a prayer hanging on a wall (in addition to religious icons on walls) in a Ukrainian hospital (Lipska Hospital in/near Zolochiv); inputting data on a computer in England vs. talking over the phone in Ukraine; and, dozing off on a chair in England vs. walking through a sleeping car on a train in Ukraine.
Albeit in English (without subtitles), whenever Ukrainian is spoken, English subtitles are provided.
Dr. Marsh's personal story had a direct bearing/impact on the future direction that his life would take. When his son, as a baby, had a brain tumor, Dr. Marsh found himself desperate for someone to help him. And, later, as he said, he couldn't "walk away from that need in others." This is the story of that segment of Dr. Marsh's life which portrays his 15-year friendship with Ukrainian surgeon, Dr. Ihor Kurilets, his Ukrainian experiences, and his never-ending reaching out and helping others. He not only didn't walk away from others in need; when necessary, he got on a plane in pursuit of fulfilling his altruistic goals. His compassion and caring are truly an inspiration to all who learn his story.
His seventeen-year love affair with Ukraine started in 1992, when Dr. Marsh first stepped on Ukrainian soil--he had been asked to give lectures on brain surgery. On his last day of that first trip, Dr. Marsh visited a state hospital in Kyiv where he saw that there was no equipment, no electricity, patients were left to die, and where he was "appalled to see a completely broken down medical system." That was in 1992--that was what the Soviet government had left Ukraine as a legacy. Ukraine had gained her independence a few months earlier on August 24, 1991--that much needed to be repaired and rebuilt, both spiritually and materially, was without a question. That last day, Dr. Marsh also met Dr. Kurilets (who told him, "Dr. Marsh, we need you. We need change.")--and a deep friendship ensued.
Over the years, each time that Dr. Marsh visited Ukraine, it was with a new idea, with a new medical instrument, and, as Ukrainian surgeon Kurilets stated, "it was not as a medical cooperative effort, but it was much deeper--it was as if Dr. Marsh was my elder brother."
As a prelude to the brain surgery, we're given a glimpse of the preparations that were under way both in England and in Ukraine. In one scene, Dr. Kurilets enters a room at Lipska Hospital in Ukraine, walks up to a colorful painting, which hangs on one of the hospital's walls, and states: "it's my favorite painting, heroes--Kozaks." And, we can compare Kozaks with us. There are many similarities with us because they are happy--because they won the battle. And, the same happened with us up to the successful stages. Sometimes, I suggest that I'm at this place (pointing to a place in the painting). And, my colleagues (pointing in a circular motion around the circumference of the table in the painting) are sitting around the table--and, by the way, the table means in surgery quite something--Kozak's table--but it can be a surgical table, also. So, they are happy around the table, and we are also happy and unhappy around the neurosurgical table. So, I like it very, very much."
The patient with a brain tumor is Marian, who lives in Zolochiv, 400 kms (248.5 miles) west of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Marian's preparations for surgery allow the viewer some glimpses into Ukrainian life: a pleasing, pastel pastoral scene, which includes the exterior of a Ukrainian church steeped in snow, when Marian visits his Ukrainian parish church to pray for a successful surgical outcome; a choir singing, as the interior is seen. (In Ukrainian churches, pews didn't exist--people would stand for up to four hours during services.)
If I, personally, needed brain surgery, or knew someone who did, this is the DVD that I would want to see, and would heartily recommend to others--for it informs as it lessens any anxiety about the procedures. A must-see documentary and testament to the work of a selfless living hero, the English Surgeon is definitely worth five stars plus, and should be in libraries, both public and personal worldwide!
Addendum: Readers, you're invited to visit each of my reviews--most of them have photos that I took in Ukraine (over 600)--you'll learn lots about Ukraine and Ukrainians. The image gallery shows smaller photos, which are out of sequence. The preferable way is to see each review through my profile page since photos that are germane to that particular book/VHS/DVD are posted there with notes and are in sequential order.
To visit my reviews: click on my pseudonym, Mandrivnyk, to get to my profile page; click on the tab called review; scroll to the bottom of the section, and click on see all reviews; click on each title, and on the left-hand side, click on see all images. The thumbnail images at the top of the page show whether photos have notes; roll your mouse over the image to find notes posted.
Also, you're invited to visit my Listmania lists, which have materials sorted by subject matter.