sábado, 28 de marzo de 2009

Of Doctors, Grips & Poets – Making Films to Change the World

I am getting sick of doctors and their incompetence and narrow-minded views of the world. The problem with more medicos, as I see it, is that they lack imagination. The medical profession should be filled with jazz enthusiasts and artists, with men and women who are not afraid – no, even better, who are enthralled by the ability – to take chances. Society – and each of us – profoundly needs in doctors (and in politicians, lawyers, judges, etc etc) the kind of people who are creative and imaginative problem solvers, and most of the people in the profession are definitely not that.

After my last little excursion to the emergency room, during which I was kept waiting for over six hours with a fish bone lodged in my throat (only to be released without receiving any care whatever), I decided that the right thing to do would be to get a pile of money and start a social experiment.

What would that experiment entail? Well, before I get into that, let me discuss for a few moments the power of the medium we know as ‘film,’ as well as a bit of background from a long time ago.

The power of film is starting to be tapped in some interesting ways, as we find that audiences are more attuned to documentaries than at any time in the history of film – except perhaps at its very beginning, when in fact most early films were ‘documentaries’ of one kind or another.

Panoramas of famous places and strapping cameras to the fronts of Alpine trains (‘phantom rides’) cannot be categorised in any other way but as docs (or more precisely, as ‘actualities’), and it wasn’t until a while later that fictional narrative got off the ground. Other films were ‘vignettes,’ meaning imagined scenes of real or imagined happenings – The Bad Boy and the Gardener (1896), Awakening of Rip (1896), The Arrest of a Bookmaker (1896), Santa Claus (1899) – though at 25 seconds to one minute, they can hardly be considered ‘narratives.’

The first fiction films, like the early actualities and panoramas, were only a minute or so long, and it took time for the audience and the makers to move toward longer films.

So… today we are seeing a renaissance of the non-narrative nonfiction film (and, indeed, of the narrative nonfiction film), and there is a vast power for collective good in that rebirth. But there is also a power in taking an ideal – or theme, or situation, or the potential subject of a doc – and building a story around it. Many true stories, taken from the slowly-turning wheel of human history, reach a mass audience not through documentaries, but through docudramas or even through fictional ‘exploitation’ of their central idea. Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are two films that followed the stories of real women, while Traffic and Blood Diamond are two films that used fictional stories to relate adverse social events and the negative situations surrounding them.

A standard technique of storytelling is to lay out the issues between central characters against the backdrop of profound social changes or historic events. Some call this playing ‘the little story against the larger backdrop’: Homer’s Illiad and Don Quixote, on down to Casablanca – and even Phantom of the Opera opens with a reference to the first sound recordings of the Paris opera being sealed in a vault below the old opera house. One such story of particular interest to filmmakers is Dreamers, in which the central action is set against the protests of the closing of the Cinémathèque Française in February of 1968.

So what does all this have to do with a recalcitrant fishbone? Well, while I was gnawing on my lip in order to keep from turning into a berserker in a wretchedly backwoods hospital (which sported hopelessly outdated equipment and a languidly incompetent staff – a Tijuana dentist has more state-of-the-art equipment than that joint), I conceived of a plan to literally change the face of the medical practice in America today. I figured, Hell, more of us than ever before are needing doctors, so why not start re-indoctrinating them?

So who would the New Doctors be? Well, poets would be a good start, since they have imagination coupled with an intellect that prizes rules and uniformity. And I know that any grip crew worth its salt could create true art out of whatever they could find, if a director up in the hills, away from all resources, wanted to build a certain kind of background for a commercial. Grips have a knowledge of working systems and a can-do attitude that gets things done. There are no doubt others who would be equally able to create change (and equally astonishing to include in the list, but let’s not get too far afield for the first visualisation of the project).

The deal would be this: take a group of six poets and a group of six grips, and send them all to medical school to see what kind of doctors they would make. My take on it is that they would make excellent doctors (unless medical schools could train out of them all their spark, in which case we’d have a crowd of lousy poets and stumbling grips (tragic, but highly unlikely).

Sure, the experiment would be expensive, but it would be worth the cost to prove to the AMA and others that they’re currently testing for the wrong kind of intelligence, and that they should start skewing their classes (not the instructional periods, but the groups of students – ‘class of 2008) toward more imagination, more creativity, and more risk. Look, medicine is of necessity an area of adverse events, so why be risk averse as well?

OK, so I thought up this grand plan – one which would cost a couple million bucks (not counting the time spent finding grips willing to become doctors) and take years of hard effort to mount. Then I got the idea that this could be written into a script (see where I’m going with this now?) and turned into a movie – not even a hit movie, since with NetFlix you can build an audience through word of mouth. And just as movies today often mirror headlines, many real-life situations are mirroring movies. Who knows – we might be able to start a trend, and in ten years we’d see the first IA doctors practicing in ERs… using their specific knowledge to ‘defeat the wind.’

Just sayin’….

David Hakim is an assistant director, producer, and publicity expert who developed campaigns for every major Hollywood studio and handled publicity for the Motion Picture Academy. Find him in the Reel Directory online: www.reeldirectory.com.

All material copyright 2008 David Hakim and may not be duplicated - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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