Monday, February 27, 2017

Having Our Baby: Surrogacy On Trial

Having Our Baby is the challenging new look at surrogacy that premieres on the Documentary Channel Tuesday night at 10.
It  answers many of the basic questions about this boom and there are facets I'd never even thought about.
As soon as I spotted Nick Orchard's name as director/producer I knew I had to preview this one.
Orchard's Vancouver-based credits include The New Beachcombers, Cosmic Highway and Cybersex Addiction.
Thankfully his production isn't a maze of questions as he chooses the personal approach.
We meet couples striving to connect with a surrogate mother and the location even moves abroad.
A look at surrogacy in India is particularly disturbing with women undergoing this procedure simply to make enough money to feed their own families --the racism here is something I'd never considered before.
We meet Edmonton couple Sarah and Jason Geisler as well as male couple Philippe Robert and Philippe Malo. And there is Ontario surrogate Eilise Marten whose story is particularly affecting --she has her own children but finds she is happiest when pregnant.
The state of surrogacy is changing as India and Mexico have banned surrogacy for commercial gain because of widespread abuses.
That portion of the film reminded me of another one from last year looking at poor people in the Philippines selling their kidneys for rich Westerners.
I would have liked to ask the Canadian couples why they just didn't go the adoption route.
And the experiences of these surrogate babies might be another interesting twist --how do they react when told later on about their unusual births.
Orchard is an expert interviewer and he manages to draw from these couples the often complicated reasons why they went the surrogacy route.
The point is made that surrogacy for profit is banned in Canada for what seems to be very sound reasons --in the U.S. the average fee is something like $36,000.
The strangest scenes are a reunion of surrogates and they turn out to be rather ordinary looking and completely sweet women --not at all predatory----I wonder as the years go on if they will ever  regret their decisions, that is certainly something to consider.
There is, of course, a huge stigma and much negativity because motherhood cannot be turned on and off like a faucet.
I'm wondering if there is a register so children who grow up can then contact their "real" mothers for whatever reasons.
How all this is playing out in Third World countries became for me the highlight of the film --the exploitation seems so callous and so very commercial.
I think the term used here is "reproductive tourism".
And the famous case of a western couple paying for a surrogate who had twins --the couple would only accept the "normal" one --the other baby with Down's syndrome was turned down.
The point is made very vigorously that in some cases the baby becomes a "thing" or a product,.
Multi-textured and completely challenging Having Our Baby (from Soapbox Productions) is compulsively viewable, a hit on many levels. Well done!
MY RATING: ^^^^.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cracking Cancer: Must-See TV

The future of Canadian TV is bright --I make this statement after watching the brilliant new homegrown documentary Cracking Cancer which premieres on CBC-TV's Nature Of Things Thursday night at 8 on CBC TV.
The subject is daunting enough --the advent of POG or Personalized OncoGenomics but this new technique in battling cancer is personalized by the true tales of patients.
We first get to know and admire Zuri who is 33 and a new mother.
She battled breast cancer shortly after giving birth and endured a mastectomy, radiation, chemo and hormone therapy.
But 18 months later her cancer came back with a vengeance spreading to the liver and lymph nodes.
Her long term prospects seemed bleak until she was given a standard drug for diabetes --it was hardly a new drug--but because of POG Zuri is currently cancer free and thriving.
The director of Cracking Cancer , Judith Pyke, says the personalized approach was used to define what a breakthrough POG is for cancer survivors.
"We started in December 2015," Pyke tells me on the phone from Vancouver.
"Originally a letter was sent out to patients we wanted to film. It was a lot to ask but we found people who did want to tell about their condition. We filmed ten but only use seven here --we were looking for different aspects you see."
Pyke and her camera crew filmed the patients not only during hospital visits but also at home with families..
"And we also filmed the oncologists specifically Dr. Janessa Laskin who is co-founder of the trial at Vancouver's BC Cancer Agency."
The documentary opens with Zuri who Pyke salutes as "quite a fighter, so optimistic. And she has fared the best."
Nori's cancer came from a mutation that caused rapid growth.
 The POG team used decades worth of scientific discovery --the goal was to isolate drugs which might block the growth of Zuri's cancer.
Zuri was given a diabetes medicine combined with hormonal treatment and five months later her cancer seemed to have become virtually undetectable.
We also meet Trish who is battling colorectal cancer and has multiple nymph nodes--she needs an eight-hour operation to eliminate a tumor on her spine.
Katya is in Styage Four for breast cancer and needs help quickly.
Then there's Marcy who is battling lung cancer and thinks she has found the right drug for her condition.
Karl has liver cancer. which was diagnosed very late.
And there is a wonderful little boy Sagar who has a unique condition which mimics cancer.
"Of course we didn't know in adevance what would happen to any of them," Pyke explains. "Of course you get emotionally involved. It was an incredible journey."
But how to explain all this to the average viewer?
Luckily NOT's long time host. Dr. David Suzuki joins the team to do exactly that. Now based in Vancouver Suzuki more often these days fronts the weekly hours. But here he uses his experience as a geneticist to ask the tough questions.
Suzuki interviews Dr. Marco Marrra, one of the leading genome scientists, who explains the procedure in terms anyone can understand.
Pyke thinks the hour is basically a study in courage. The outcomes can't be revealed here but there's sorrow as well as triumph.
Today's TV hour is actually 42 minutes--meaning heroic editing was needed to preserve the content but keep the pacing.
Pyke credits ace editing (Alan Flett) and her director of photography (Todd Craddock). Pyke wrote it with Helen Singer and Sue Ridout produced for Dreamfilm Productions.
The result is a model of how to engage viewers without sacrificing quality.
MY RATING: ****.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Showcasing The Bugs In Your Home!

Usually on The Nature Of Things TV fans get to visit tropical rain forests or the frozen Canadian North or laboratories in Oxford University.
But director Roberto Verdecchia had this great idea -- he wanted nothing better than to visit an average Toronto home and report from there.
You can see for yourself on the absolutely original hour The Great Wild Outdoors which premieres on CBC-TV Thursday February 9 at 8 p.m.
Verdecchia's method is simplicity itself --he selected the home of friends and bade them leave while he brought in a team of eager entomologists to track down every insect living uninvited in this home.
"I think we got almost everything we wanted," says Verdecchia. "We simply wanted to show how every house is a fully functioning habitat for a wide variety of insects."
At first we see the TV team bidding the Vettese family goodbye as the home becomes the personal insect fiefdom of talented researcher Michalle Trautwein and her easger beaver crew of insect detectives.
It's "Lights!Action!Camera!" and the stars of this production seem to be everywhere --under rugs, lurking in the darkest recesses of the cellar, even in the clothes closets.
I asked Roberto on the phone what would have happened if none of his guest stars had shown up and he laughed.
Because this hour was shot in the summer and many of the critters simply enter via open doors and windows.
"In deepest winter it might be a bit different but they are still there," he says.
Of course the young children in the family seem not at all enjoyed to be sharing such a nice house with bugs.
But generally speaking the bugs don't bother us much and we're expected to do the same thing I guess.
The press release quotes Roberto as saying :"I'm not much of a bug guy." But he effortlessly captures the enthusiasm of the researchers upon each discovery.
So here we have it --a wild life adventure documentary that resolutely never goes outdoors. How strange is that?
Every home it turns out teems with life and the question here is relevant: who is living with whom? What we have here is a great, unchartered frontier.
Every discovery becomes a joyful moment and specimens are bagged to be sent to the laboratory.We get to know a little about the researchers who seem impossibly young.
There are carpet beetles, clothes moths, the delightful wood louse, all those spiders in the basement.
I know there are spiders because of the mummified remains of their prey. Others such as mites are so tiny they look like dust spots--that's a deliberate cover up.
I could go on: pantry beetles, the ever unpopular stink bug, the house seems chock full of all these critters. The silverfish have been around since the Stone Age. There's one specie who can drop a leg just to fool a predator. And the moth in the luggage -- I was waiting for him.
This reminds me of a past NOT documentary which looked at all the bugs in a normal back yard.
Two names deserve mention: director of photography Derek Rogers and bug wrangler Jim Lovisek.
The Great Wild Indoors was produced by 52 Media Inc.
MY RATING: ***1/2.