'Every Last Child': DOC NYC Review
Tom Roberts' documentary chronicles the polio epidemic in Pakistan as a result of Taliban aggression against its inoculation campaign
The gripping opening scene of Tom Roberts' documentary depicts Pakistani police officers heavily armoring themselves as their captain advises them that they're fighting a "holy war." But it's the reason for their preparations that is the truly startling element of Every Last Child: They're being sent out to protect polio vaccinators who are desperately attempting to immunize the nation's children even while being attacked by Taliban forces. The film, all too timely in the wake of the recent Ebola crisis, received its world premiere at the DOC NYC festival.
Pakistan is one of only three countries that suffers from endemic polio, and a principal reason is the steadfast opposition of Taliban fundamentalists who in 2012 issued a ban against vaccination programs. The result was an explosion of new polio cases, with the strain spreading to other countries via the nation's rivers. According to the film, some 500,000 Pakistani children are at risk.
Since then dozens of vaccinators and policeman have been murdered by militants, even as one local official of the World Health Organizations affirms, "This is not supposed to be a war."
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The film profiles several victims of the polio epidemic and the violence surrounding it, including a beggar propelling himself through the city streets on a makeshift cart who declares, "I'll be fit in the afterlife"; the distraught father of an afflicted baby boy being fitted for braces; and a woman who has dedicated her life to the cause after her niece and sister-in-law were murdered as they were canvassing for inoculation.
We also hear from several people warily resisting the efforts of the health workers, with one of them explaining that the vaccinations "make girls prematurely adult and boys impotent." Another declares that the campaign is a conspiracy by Jews and Christians aimed at eradicating Muslims.
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Fortunately, some measure of hope is provided toward the end, as the film documents a recent government-sponsored "Justice for Health" initiative supported by such popular politicians as Imran Khan that has resulted in a major drop in new polio cases.
Provocative and hard-hitting, Every Last Child is a chilling reminder that even diseases once thought eradicated are still capable of rearing their ugly heads as a result of ignorance and prejudice.
Production: Image Nation Abu Dhabi FZ
Director-screenwriter: Tom Roberts
Producers: Anna Melin, Tom Roberts, Sabin Agha
Executive producers: Danielle Perissi, Ziad F. Fares, Nasser A. Al-Mubarak
Director of photography: Ali Faisal Zaidi
Editor: Paul Carlin
Composer: Nitin Sawhney
No rating, 82 minutes