Burzynski: The Movie, written and Directed by Eric Merola. Released by MEROLA (2010). 1 hour, 45 minutes. MPAA: Unrated.
“Kafkaesque” is a word that has lost much of its potency due to overuse: These days any bizarre situation is likely to be described this way. But if any story today deserves to be likened to the bewildering fiction of Franz Kafka, it is the nonfiction tale of Stanislaw Burzynski, MD, PhD, a Texas-based doctor who has been waging a single-handed battle with his home state’s medical board, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and federal prosecutors. What makes Dr. Burzynski’s story particularly bewildering is that he is being persecuted not because he is a terrible doctor, but because he may have made one of the most important medical discoveries in history: a treatment for cancer that is safer and more effective than either chemotherapy or radiation.
In Burzynski: The Movie, director Eric Merola details the eponymous doctor’s ongoing struggles to treat his patients with his anticancer drug Antineoplaston A10, which could end the need for chemotherapy and radiation for many forms of cancer. But rather than being lauded and his discovery brought to market where it could help untold millions, Dr. Burzynski has been threatened with professional and financial ruin and the loss of his freedom. What makes the story particularly maddening and infuriating is that those who are trying to destroy him do so while acknowledging that Burzynski is doing no harm and probably a lot of good for his patients.
Director Merola obviously supports Dr. Burzynski, and his film clearly falls into the category of advocacy documentary. Of course, we have seen a plethora of advocacy documentaries over the past decade—notably from Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock. They are usually cheeky takes on important issues that are more focused on entertainment, at the expense of their case. But the biggest problem with these recent attempts at advocacy documentary (one of the oldest genres of nonfiction film) is that the filmmakers involved generally proceed to trash their opponents without having first proven their own positions. Although this approach can spark important debate in the marketplace of ideas, these films are seriously flawed—substituting, as they do, non sequiturs and out-of-context examples for evidence and argument. . . .