×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Bending the Arc’

A stirring documentary about bringing basic healthcare services to those who need it most.

With:
Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim, Ophelia Dahl, Agnes Binagwaho, Joia Mukherjee. (English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Kinyarwanda dialogue)

For anyone who wants to believe in the promise of Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice,” a film like “Bending the Arc” is downright inspiring. With the gripping appeal of a great epic novel, Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos’ documentary spans three decades of diligent work on the frontlines of global health crises to prove, in moving detail, the difference dedicated professionals can make in seemingly hopeless situations. The film, with the help of celebrity producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, should overcome resistance to ostensibly downbeat subject matter to garner attention in the nonfiction marketplace.

Davidson and Kos filter the story through the work and friendship of physicians Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners In Health, and Jim Yong Kim, the current president of the World Bank Group, who began as idealistic medical students with the simple goal of launching a primary healthcare clinic in Haiti during the late ’80s. That expands into a battle against tuberculosis in both Haiti and South America, which yields important lessons for later fights against the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa and Ebola in Rwanda.

The incredible evolution of their story is presented through a riveting mix of talking-head interviews, archival footage, and vérité footage (the directors, who launched their project in 2010, benefit greatly from supplemental material captured by two other filmmakers, David Murdock and David Belle, for earlier projects). Farmer and Kim are engaging interview subjects, as are their close associates Ophelia Dahl, who first met Farmer is 1983; Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s former Minister of Health; and Joia Mukherjee, the chief medical officer at Partners In Health.

While it’s one thing to hear medical professionals narrate their accomplishments and the hurdles they’ve faced along the way, it’s another to see the difference they’ve made with our own eyes. A sequence where Kim breaks down in tears at the sight of a former patient, who he remembers on the verge of death’s door with drug resistant tuberculosis but today is a happy and healthy adult, demonstrates that even the doctors themselves can still be moved by the miraculous nature of basic medical care.

As debates rage about whether healthcare is a right for all or a privilege for those who can afford it, “Bending the Arc” goes beyond rhetoric to give viewers an inside look at doctors who simply want to make a difference.

Writer Cori Shepherd Stern brings a snap to the storytelling that gives the film its shape, bolstered by the nimble work by veteran editor Kos and Yuki Aizawa, who seamlessly craft the mishmash of materials into a smooth and satisfying whole.

Film Review: 'Bending the Arc'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 22, 2017. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An Urban Landscapes production, in association with Scout & Scholar, Impact Partners. Producers: Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern. Executive producers: Dan Cogan, Geralyn White Dreyfous, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Eric Dobkin, Barbara Dobkin, Rick Rosenthal, Nancy Stephens, Damon Lindelof, Heidi Lindelof, Lekha Singh, Patty Quillin, Nina Fialkow, David Fialkow, Diana Barrett, Joan Platt, Jim Swartz, Susan Swartz, Sally Osberg, Sandy Herz, Bernard Friedman, Sean Mewshaw, Desi VanTil.

Crew: Directors: Kief Davidson, Pedro Kos. Writer: Cori Shepherd Stern. Camera (color, HD): David Murdock, Guy Mossman, Joshua Dreyfus, Nick Higgins, Davidson. Editors: Kos, Yuki Aizawa. Music: H. Scott Salinas, Matthew Atticus Berger.

With: Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim, Ophelia Dahl, Agnes Binagwaho, Joia Mukherjee. (English, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Kinyarwanda dialogue)

More Film

  • WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make

    WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals if Agents are Fired

    The Writers Guild of America has authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7. The guild’s negotiating committee notified members of the plans in a message Wednesday. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made [...]

  • Gone With the Wind Screening

    Film News Roundup: 'Gone With the Wind' Sets Event Cinema Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Gone with the Wind” sets a new record, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is acquired, and Tracy Oliver signs with Topic Studios. EVENT CINEMA RECORD More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Sara Bareilles Premieres New Songs, Declares Love for Obama at Intimate L.A. Show The 80th anniversary [...]

  • Made in Abyss - Journey’s Dawn

    Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’

    It’s a Herculean effort to take a multi-volume manga like author Akihito Tsukushi’s “Made in Abyss,” adapt it into a popular anime television series, and then compress the show into a coherent feature (technically, two movies), but the folks at Sentai Filmworks have done just that. Part one, “Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn,” will screen [...]

  • HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market

    HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market Winners

    Eighteen prizes were presented on Wednesday afternoon at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The project market sits alongside FilMart as part of the Entertainment Expo in Hong Kong. “Wong Tai Sin Assassination” to be directed by Wong Hoi and produced by Derek Kwok Tsz-kin, was named the winner of [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

    The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks. WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped [...]

  • Noah Centineo He-Man

    Noah Centineo to Play He-Man in 'Masters of the Universe' Reboot

    From a boy (who’s loved) to He-Man. Noah Centineo is in talks to take on the superhero in Sony Pictures and Mattel Films’ “Masters of the Universe.” More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Sara Bareilles Premieres New Songs, Declares Love for Obama at Intimate L.A. Show Brothers Adam and Aaron Nee are [...]

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content