Triage: Dr. James Orbinski's Humanitarian Dilemma

Institute History

  • 2008 Sundance Film Festival


How do you make sense of the experiences connected with serving as a humanitarian aid worker during some of the world’s greatest tragedies? Dr. James Orbinski, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, bore witness to horrendous suffering and extreme mortality rates during the famine in Somalia, as well as the unfathomable atrocities of the Rwandan genocide, in the 1990s. Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma skillfully captures his journey back to Africa 15 years later as he revisits the countries where he spent years working, perched on the front lines of civil war. As he writes a book depicting his tenure in the war-torn countries, he hopes to reclaim the word “humanitarian,” a term frequently co-opted by governments with ulterior motives. He understandably finds it hard to assemble the words to convey what he saw because words themselves are too limited.

This intensely emotional film is highly personal and wholly universal, shown through the eyes of one man who observed the worst of the worst. Yet the soft-spoken doctor eloquently reminds us it was not his family that was butchered or starved for political gains. As a visual log, the transcendent film succeeds in finding humanity where little else prevails and illustrates how words can fail to express life’s most complex situations.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

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