Ric Esther Bienstock’s Tales From the Organ Trade — making it’s world premiere at the Documentary Edge Festival — focuses on the ethically ambiguous issue of kidney trading between consenting parties on the black market, specifically between affluent Westerners forced to endure lengthy waits on their home country’s transplant lists and poverty stricken donors in third world nations (such as the Philippines) who desperately need the money to support their family. Her character-driven approach makes for some insightful and moving human moments on both sides of the transaction, but this comes at the cost of anything resembling objective investigative journalism. Conspicuously absent are any kind of medical or legal experts — aside from one unsympathetic and two-dimensional prosecutor in Kosovo — as are relevant organisations such as the World Health Organization or the Kidney Fund, which obviously limits the film’s scope. Also troubling is the lack of representation for China and India’s considerable black markets, not to mention the much darker issue of exploitative organ harvesting and smuggling. While Esther Bienstock could fairly argue that several of these issues have been covered in other recent documentaries, I could’t help but wish that Organ Trade had taken a more comprehensive look at this important, growing problem, and her repetitive film certainly could have benefitted from a wider range of interviewees. In a darkly apt move, legendary body horror director David Cronenberg (Videodrome) lends his authoritative, detached voice for the film’s narration; one might assume that his inclusion guarantees a certain level of craft, but unfortunately — between the underwhelming camerawork, inefficient editing, and generic, often cloying score — the filmmaking on display here is no better than any made-for-TV documentary. Kidney disease is on the rise everywhere, and Organ Trade does manage to convey the urgency of this problem and its dire consequences, but this complicated issue deserves a more ambitious and expansive expose if it is to attain any significant public awareness.
Tales From the Organ Trade is currently screening at the Documentary Edge Festival. For more information visit their website, and see the trailer below.