Ric Esther Bienstock’s investigation into the black market for human organs made its debut this Spring at Documentary Edge. It’s gone on to screen at Hot Docs, London, Margaret Mead, Dockufest, Hot Springs, Zurich, Bergen, and Fantastic Fest, among others.
Bienstock’s film tackles an extremely murky subject – the need for viable human organs for life-saving surgery and the moral and ethical grey zone in which some are acquired. Showing the global black market that has sprung up to address the demand, the film traces the path of an organ in one particular case, following a kidney that gave a Canadian man new life through the channels that involve a Turkish surgeon now living in hiding, an Israeli nephrologist, and, at its starting point, the Moldovan woman who parted with her organ willingly. Woven throughout are the stories of others making the choice to turn to this questionable supply chain, including destitute Filipinos showing off the incision scars that both saved lives and helped them provide for their families. To her credit, Bienstock permits these individuals, and others from around the world, to tell their own stories rather than impose a decisive judgement upon them. The film neither whole-heartedly endorses nor condemns the practice, instead allowing for dissenting voices which address the various factors that come into play when dealing with such a thorny issue – the desperation of patients needing organs, the economic disparity that makes organ donation for profit a viable route for many, and the coercion that is enabled in some cases due to the practice’s illegality. While conventionally executed, and featuring an excess of narration by David Cronenberg, this thoughtful, multifaceted engagement with a complex issue, as opposed to a sensationalistic tabloid approach that could easily have been taken, makes this worthwhile viewing.