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The English Surgeon

Named the best international feature documentary at last year’s Hot Docs festival in Toronto, The English Surgeon is an unfortunate (if apt) title for an unforgettable film. It is the story of Henry Marsh, a British neurosurgeon who first visited Kiev in the Ukraine in the early 1990s. There, at a hospital operated by no less than the KGB, he was horrified to see patients suffering and dying from conditions that in the West could have been quickly diagnosed and treated. He began to filter supplies to a colleague there, and to make regular trips to provide his own expertise and, where possible, assistance. Filmmaker Geoffrey Smith follows him an his latest trip, as he sees as many patients as he can and aids in an operation to remove a brain tumor from a man, Marian, who has been rendered epileptic by it. Marsh sounds a lot like John Cleese, and you can hear the comedian’s sense of perpetual outrage in his quietly modulated voice: For as many years as he has been doing this, he remains outraged that so many children and adults must die or live lives of crippling disability for the lack of materials that are thrown away after one use in British hospitals. He visits the mother of a girl who died after an operation he performed went wrong, and speaks movingly of the difficulty of confronting cases where the results of surgery may be worse than simply consigning someone to an inevitable death. The film’s centerpiece is Marian’s operation, which must be performed without anesthetic so that he can advise the surgeons of his ability to move his limbs: It sounds horrifying, but is in fact both engrossing and tremendously moving. The English Surgeon will be shown at the Screening Room, in the Northtown Plaza in Amherst, Friday at 7:15pm, Saturday at 7:15pm and 9:15pm, and Sunday at 8pm.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for The English Surgeon

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