24 March 2014

DVD Review - Fire In The Blood (2013)


Genre:
Documentary
Distributor:
Network Releasing
Rating:PG
DVD Release Date:
24th March 2014(UK)
Director:
Dylan Mohan Gray
Buy:Fire in the Blood [DVD]

Dylan Mohan Gray’s Fire in the Blood is an impassioned polemic that sheds light on how, several years on from antiretroviral (ARV) medication turning HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable chronic condition, people in the developing world are still dying of AIDS related complications. The simple, and somewhat unsurprising, answer is capitalism, with profiteering, patent-holding multinational pharmaceutical companies holding a monopoly on these drugs, allowing them to set the price at whatever extortionate rate they choose. The consequence of this being that people are dying because they are poor and not because there is no treatment available.

To make matters worse, there is affordable medicine out there in the form of generic, non-patented drugs that work in exactly the same way as the more expensive branded alternatives. The film goes into great detail to show how Dr Yusuf Hamied, the progressive CEO of Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla, was able to offer the ARV drugs at the low price of $350 a year, a figure that sits in sharp contrast to the $15,000 that the greedy multinationals charge for their patented brand. The problem is that although breakthroughs like Dr Hamied’s were possible, there is always a setback, with the relentless conglomerates – and the Western governments doing their bidding – keeping the upper hand, and prices out of reach, with the recent introduction of a new international trade agreement that favours the patent-holders, making it hard for anyone to offer the help, and affordable generic alternatives, required to save millions of lives without breaking international law.

Having watched the film I am left in no doubt that this is a story that needed to be told and I share the disgust Gray feels towards the greedy, inhuman actions of these immoral pharmaceutical companies who legally get away with denying millions of people the treatment they need in order to make a larger profit. However, I need to critique this documentary on a cinematic level. And I would like to do this in such a way that I do not undermine the importance of the films subject. The problem is that Fire in the Blood does suffer for having a conventional structure, choosing to mix talking head interviews, to the point news footage, and damning statistics with emotive personal stories. It also suffers from trying to fit too much information into a rather short running time, inadvertently narrowing the scope of the subject by too briefly touching on issues ranging from the role governments have played in aiding the pharmaceutical companies to the way that profiteering has also priced many people in the Western world out of treatment too.

Fire in the Blood is at its best when showing the stories of the few brave individuals whose determination has helped raise awareness in the West and made a difference too many lives across the developing world. Further to Dr Hamied’s remarkable generosity in offering ARVs at less than $1 a day, there is physician Peter Mugyenyi who defied patent laws to bring generic drugs into Uganda, and South African HIV-positive activist and co-founder of Treatment Action Campaign Zackie Achmat who refused AIDS treatment, even after the insistence of Nelson Mandela, until everyone had access to the drugs. It is with these individual stories that Gray’s documentary is at its most powerful, and most successful. And it is for these stories, and the awareness that they raise, that the film needs to be seen.

★★★½

Shane James


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