Bending the Arc




A film about service to others that will win great admiration from viewers.

Bending the Arc


This is a film about Partners In Health which was founded in 1987 as a non-profit health care organisation and has since grown substantially. It is in itself worthy material for a documentary film, but that doesn't explain why Bending the Arc is so uplifting. In fact what make this piece memorable is the personal aspect. Partners in Health would not have come about save for the shared outlook of three people drawn to medicine but driven by a profound sense that the medical profession should be at the forefront of social justice (the film's title refers to the moral arc bending towards a universe founded on justice for all).


It was in Haiti in 1983 that Paul Farmer, then 23 years of age, met someone who had the same beliefs as himself, the 18-year-old Ophelia Dahl (daughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal). These two are seen here while also providing voice overs to tell their story. It is one which would take a major step forward at Harvard when Paul, encouraged to complete his medical education there and then to return to Haiti, encountered the third prime figure here, Jim Yong Kim from Korea also in his early twenties.


Together with others, these three became impassioned by the need to help the situation in Haiti since Paul and Ophelia had become aware of the failure to tackle tuberculosis there adequately. It was a time when Haiti was obtaining bank loans but at the cost of cutting expenses for health and education to ensure repayment. Aided by private funding, Partners In Health were able to help the poor and the coloured population who were the chief victims - they were being denied treatment because it was expensive and regarded as unsuccessful until the work of Partners In Health proved otherwise. A similar story would unfold in Peru when the organisation sought to combat AIDS on what could by then be referred to as their Haiti model. Later still the fight to provide health care and to get funding for it would extend to Rwanda in the period after the genocide when it was setting out on the path to recovery.


The two directors of Bending the Arc have experience as editors, but nevertheless the final minutes of their film would be more powerful if more compact. Furthermore, although some 'Before` and 'After' shots of patients are memorably brought into play, the direction is competent rather than special. But what matters profoundly, even more than the range and variety of the material, is the inspiration that this film offers. Paul, Ophelia and Jim in telling their story come across as naturally as if they were talking to you about it in your own living room and they make us realise how the determined, idealistic efforts of their young selves led directly to an achievement that has saved countless lives. To some extent (quite enough to matter) it can be said that these human beings changed the world and Bending the Arc, which deserves to be seen as widely as possible, would be an ideal movie for screening to teenagers in school.




Featuring  Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Jim Yong Kim, Agnes Binagwaho, Fritz Lafontant, Adeline Merçon, Eric Sawyer, Heureuse Charles.


Dir Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos, Pro Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern, Screenplay Cori Shepherd Stern, Ph Joshua Dreyfus, Nick Higgins, Guy Mossman and David Murdock, Ed Yuki Aizawa and Pedro Kos, Music Norman Kim and Juan Carlos Enriquez.


Impact Partners/Scout & Scholar/Urban Landscape Productions-DocHouse.
102 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 18 August 2017. No Cert.