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‘Bending the Arc’ is a triumph

By Peter Keough

The 19th-century Boston Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker is quoted as saying “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Perhaps so, but it needs a lot of help to get there. Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos’s cogent and often exhilarating documentary “Bending the Arc” (with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as producers) takes its title from Parker’s words and tells the story of some people determined to hasten that arc.

Physician Paul Farmer and activist Ophelia Dahl (who, along with Dr. Jim Yong Kim, cofounded the NGO Partners in Health) met in 1983 in Haiti, where they were both working to help the poor. In what Farmer describes as one of many moments of “serendipity,” these two befriended Fritz Lafontant, a Haitian priest who suggested they take their skills and aspirations to Cange, a destitute, remote village, and build a clinic there.

Farmer at the time was studying for his medical degree at Harvard. On weekends he would return to Haiti — sometimes with equipment and medicine “borrowed” from the university or the hospitals where he worked — and put newly learned expertise to work. He also became friends with Kim, and together the friends developed a community-based program to combat tuberculosis, a model which they would later bring to Peru and Rwanda and use in fighting HIV-AIDS.

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