Bright light shines on health

KOS – «There is a certain lightness to the Kos festival,» says Eylon Nuphar, the subject of one participating film, «Transparent Time.» Indeed, the first-ever festival dedicated to matters of health examines weighty issues spanning from genocide to amnesia without losing sight of its sunny location. Running until September 6, the films hail from Israel to Romania and from Spain to Uganda. The emphasis is on hope, perseverance and, above all, the belief that man has the duty to help his fellow man. This is the island of Hippocrates after all. «Everything we think and believe is shown through our program,» artistic director Lucia Rikaki announced at the opening ceremony of the First International Health Film Festival «Ippokratis» on September 1. The emphasis is on drawing the widest audience it can, with entirely free-of-charge, open-to-the-public screenings – at both the indoor and outdoor Orpheus venues – throughout the days and evenings, and daily group discussions at noon with the makers of the films, where anyone is welcome to come ask questions. The inclusiveness extends to the composition of the jury as well. Some jury members come from the world of film but others are from medical professions, offering a mix of perspectives with which to judge the lineup of short, medium- and feature-length films dedicated to subjects such as assisted suicide, stem-cell research and organ donation. There’s no fear of seeing the same kind of film twice. In just three short days, screened films included «The English Surgeon,» a look at the accomplishments and moral struggles of British neurosurgeon Dr Henry Marsh as he worked to help tumor-ridden patients in the run-down Ukrainian healthcare system. Director and producer of the documentary Geoffrey Smith, who was at the festival along with Henry Marsh, explained: «There is a need for documentaries about real people. They give audiences something Hollywood could never give.» Similar in its humanitarian focus, «Triage: Dr James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma» accompanies past president of Doctors without Borders (MSF) Dr James Orbinski as he revisits the sights of the most horrific modern-day genocides he witnessed as part of the MSF. «Hidden Heart,» meanwhile, brought to the foreground the historically overlooked role of Hamilton Naki, a player in the story of the first human heart transplant, which took place in Apartheid South Africa. Unanswerable questions around death and loss aren’t off the agenda in a festival about health but surprisingly even the darkest of topics can be infused with humor and, yes, even joie de vivre. «Forgetting Dad» has Rick Minnich try to make sense of the unanswered questions surrounding his father Richard’s amnesia, with a family forced to abruptly say goodbye to the father they knew, despite the lack of any physical damage to Richard’s body. «The Suicide Tourist» in turn showed even the most private moments of three people (two of whom were a lively Greek-Canadian couple) who sought to voluntarily end their lives with the help of legal assisted suicide. Often uncomfortable questions were in the process brought to the surface. Who should be granted the right to end their life and who should set the terms? And how do these people’s loved ones deal with this particular type of loss? The mood was quite a bit lighter for lovers of women and chocolate: There was a midnight screening of the US-Canadian production «Petals – Journey into Self-Discovery,» which followed photographer Nick Karris’s production of a book of photographs of intimate female organs – along with varying reactions by women’s health professionals, art critics and laymen (and women) after seeing the photos. And a noon showing of «In Search of… The Heart of Chocolate» has US filmmaker Sarah Feinbloom sink her teeth into the world of chocolate enthusiasts and plain-out chocoholics. There’s much more to come, however. Screenings continue through to the Sunday-evening award ceremony. Today’s highlights are expected to be Italian documentary «Health for Sale,» about the pharmaceutical industry; «Killer Cure,» focusing on the problem of antibiotic misuse; Greek production «De-Institutionalization: The Way Back;» «Young Freud in Gaza,» about the only field psychologist working in northern Gaza and «Under Our Skin,» about the fastest-growing infectious disease in the USA and abroad, Lyme disease. Saturday’s schedule includes a glimpse into the healthcare in a contemporary American city, «A Good Death,» and the lighthearted ode to elderly Greek spa-town visitors, «Bathers.» On Sunday, «Jonathan, A Different Child» zooms in on two parents raising their autistic son, and at 7.30 p.m. there will be a concert by Lebanese singer Yolla Khalife (of the Syrian film «Hey! Don’t Forget the Cumin,» shown at the festival yesterday). For those who can’t make it this year, don’t fret: Next year’s festival is scheduled for September 14 to 20, again on Kos. As Dr Marsh acknowledged: «Western medicine all dates back to Hippocrates and this island.»