Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
Some of the most significant advances in twentieth-century medicine were the result of military engagements. The proliferation of bombs and mines in the First World War led directly to the development of prosthetic limbs to help soldiers and civilians who lost legs and arms to recover their autonomy. Orlando von Einsiedel’s Still Human is a tribute to The International Committee of the Red Cross and the work of one man at a rehabilitation centre in South Sudan.
In an area in which warfare erupts regularly, Makur spends much of his time consulting with affected patients, manufacturing limbs tailored to each individual and supporting follow-up care as the patient learns to walk again. Showing on the National Geographic YouTube channel as part of a series of Nobel Peace Prize shorts, the world premiere of this 15-minute film examines the personal difference a large organisation makes at a local level.
von Einsiedel has a twin narrative, following Makur, a former teacher who lost a leg after a wartime cattle raid where he was working as a farmer when the schools were closed. An amputee who cycles to work at the rehabilitation centre, Makur also treats Martha, a local mother whose lower leg was removed after a snake bite and prepares to receive her first prothesis. Unable to fetch water or wood for her family, she has to carry her baby in a sling hanging from her neck.
It may only be a brief insight, but what makes Still Human so fascinating is how much it manages to say about the unexpected consequences of war; Makur may have been permanently mutilated but it also opened-up a new career for him, helping people like Martha to regain their own feeling of independence. Being involved in everything from original consultation and measuring to taking body casts of stumps and hips, as well as manufacturing a bespoke prosthesis on site, this is clearly hugely rewarding work for our cycling protagonist all of which is captured within the film.
Similarly, Franklin Dow’s camerawork creates a warm feeling of easy community, and while the violent origins of these injuries is never played down, the focus is most distinctly on how the Centre is helping local people every day. And while the technology may not be state of the art and the scale of the operation small, there is such a sense of positivity within the film, of the life changing effects of the work being undertaken, acknowledged by patient Martha.
Unlike Into the Fire, von Einsiedel doesn’t include shots of conflict or even contextual descriptions of the Sudanese wars, instead this is a story of how ordinary civilians have adapted in the aftermath of conflict and how military medicine can be repurposed for wider societal use. It is a lovely moment when Martha receives her new leg – a mechanical knee joint with a thin rod connecting it to a plastic foot – her smile is heart-warming. Makur explains that the support of his family and the chance of a new leg helped him deal with suicidal thoughts, and while we all sit at home a million miles from Makur and even the medical emergencies that take place in our own county, what a reminder that organisations like the International Committee of the Red Cross really make so much of a difference.