Cut Poison Burn

Docu accuses the U.S. medical establishment of willfully suppressing access to promising alternative cancer therapies.

Activist docu “Cut Poison Burn” accuses the U.S. medical establishment of willfully suppressing access to promising alternative cancer therapies in favor of high-cost ones with dubious success rates. Focusing on one Tucson family’s fight a decade ago to let their child forgo debilitating chemotherapy, the pic indicts the system as being corrupted at patients’ expense, while promoting one Houston-based doctor as a possible savior in the never-ending “war on cancer.” Wayne Chesler’s film plans to kick off theatrical runs in Los Angeles and New York come January, though primary impact is likely to be in smallscreen formats.

Jim and Donna Navarro’s 4-year-old son, Thomas, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1999; the couple decided the proferred therapies would impair the chronically ill tot’s remaining quality of life too much. They preferred to try Poland-born Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s alternative antineoplaston compound treatments, to which the child seemed to respond very favorably. However, their own physician soon filed charges against them with Child Protective Services for abuse and neglect, citing legal stipulations that alternative therapies be sought only in tandem with or after conventional ones.

Pic sketches the history of what President Nixon dubbed our “war” on cancer. A few breakthroughs have occurred, but the more common cancers remain desperately short on solutions. (Five hundred thousand people die of cancer every year in this country alone.) The FDA, American Medical Assn. and American Cancer Society are accused of, among other things, hiking the cost of clinical trials so high that independent research gets squelched, and corporations investigate and promote only those drugs, treatments and medical supplies that will bring high profits. (The Pap smear is noted as a discovery buried for decades simply because it was so cheap.)

One authority hopes we’ll soon look back at chemotherapy and laugh, as we do now at prior eras’ notions of bleeding patients. The success rates of chemo and radiation therapy are debatable, their potential side effects ranging from nausea to immune-depressed infection, organ damage, blindness, IQ loss … and cancer.

While Thomas Navarro was legally barred from continuing his alternative regime until too late, the filmmakers trot out other patients who claim Burzynski cured them outright. (Even then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush briefly took up the family’s cry for “medical freedom.”) The government spent 13 years and $18 million prosecuting Burzynski in what’s been called a witch-hunt trial, only to acquit him on all 75 counts.

But “Cut Poison Burn’s” evangelical zeal doesn’t allow Burzynski’s many detractors enough space to explain precisely why they consider his notions quackery (like laetrile, the illegal alleged cancer therapy President Reagan supposedly utilized while in office). In the end, as President Obama is heard again raising hopes for a “cure in our lifetime,” pic’s strongest argument is the basic one that, “Doctors should be free to innovate — that’s how medicine moves forward.”

Plentiful TV news clips and homemovie footage of the Navarros and other afflicted families dramatize a series of talking-head points in a briskly assembled package.

Cut Poison Burn

  • Production: A Nehst release of a Legend Prods. and Joe Bink Films production in association with Mutiny Prods. and Mighty Pictures. Produced by Louis Cimino, Wayne Chesler. Co-producer, Charlie Sadoff. Executive producers, Robert Michaan, Cimino, Harvey Bibicoff. Directed by Wayne Chesler. Screenplay, Charlie Sadoff, Chesler, Louis Cinimo, inspired by the stage play "Cut Poison and Burn" by Cimino.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Amyn Kaderali, John Meyer, Mark Petersson, Matthew Jensen, Douglas Burns, Roger Brooks, Charles Morse; editor, Sadoff; music, Steven Stern; sound, Marc Bazerman; graphics, Riss Design. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Oct. 27, 2010. (In Mill Valley Film Festival -- Valley of the Docs.) Running time: 87 MIN.
  • With: With: Jim Navarro, Donna Navarro, Julian Whitaker, Leonard Zwelling, Charles Simone, Jonathan W. Emord, G. Edward Griffin, Vincent DeVita, Devra Davis, Ralph Moss, Stanislaw Burzynski. Narrator: Peter Coyote.