Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders

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Living in Emergency
Living in Emergency- Stories of Doctors Without Borders FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed by Mark N. Hopkins
Produced by Naisola Grimwood
Daniel Holton-Roth
Mark N. Hopkins
Executive producers
Erika Bertin
Molly Conners
Geralyn White Dreyfous
Mark Jonathan Harris
Sarah Johnson Redlich
Christopher Woodrow
Starring Chris Brasher
Davinder Gill
Tom Krueger
Chiara Lepora
Music by Bruno Coulais
Cinematography Sebastian Ischer
Edited by Bob Eisenhardt
Sebastian Ischer
Doug Rossini
Distributed by Bev Pictures
First Run Features
Release dates August 29, 2008
(Venice Film Festival)
June 4, 2010
(U.S. Theatrical Release)
Running time 93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,000,000 (est.)

Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders was among the 15 documentaries shortlisted for the Best Documentary Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the 82nd Academy Awards.[1]

It is the first uncensored film about Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or Doctors Without Borders)[2] and seeks to viscerally portray the real life of western doctors in the field as they confront the many difficulties and dilemmas of working in extreme conditions with limited resources.

Although Living in Emergency is a cinema verité documentary film, it has been compared to fictional films like M*A*S*H and the TV series House.


Set in war-torn Congo and post-conflict Liberia, Living in Emergency interweaves the stories of four doctors as they struggle to provide emergency medical care in extreme conditions.

Two of the doctors are new recruits: a 26 year-old Australian stranded in a remote bush clinic and an American surgeon struggling to cope under the load of emergency cases in a shattered capital city. Two others are experienced field hands: a dynamic Head of Mission, valiantly trying to keep morale high and tensions under control, and an exhausted veteran, who has seen too much horror and wants out.

Amidst the chaos, each volunteer must confront the severe challenges of the work, the tough choices, and the limits of their idealism.


It took six months for the filmmakers to persuade MSF to grant them unrestricted access to film the field operations. More than 25 production companies had tried and been rejected.

Undeterred, director Mark N. Hopkins and his team produced a 15-minute pilot about the organization's emergency response to the 2005–06 Niger food crisis and were consequently given permission.

For a period of two years the team filmed in various MSF hospitals. The shoots were organized to cover the various facets of the MSF organization; the administrative base, the conflict and post-conflict missions, and a response to natural disaster.

The film's unconventional structure, which inter-cuts between four characters in two countries, charts the psychological journey of the volunteer experience and how it shapes a person's perspectives from first mission to veteran. This experience is the central arc of the film.

The film was shot in Liberia after the Second Civil War and in the North-East of the Democratic Republic of Congo where there is still ongoing conflict after the Second Congo War.

Two other countries that were filmed did not make it into the final movie.


Living in Emergency premiered at the 65th Venice Film Festival and screened at film festivals around the world. It was released theatrically by Bev Pictures at the Lumiere Theater in San Francisco and other theaters in the U.S. on June 4, 2010 and later on DVD/VOD by First Run Features.


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