Medical documentary shares an awakening discovery


Documentary filmmaker Rina Jooste shares the stories of patients whose lives
have been transformed by Dr Wally Nel in the South African film, The Doctor and
the Miracle Pill, which featured at the 2014 Jozi Film Festival.

It’s hard to imagine that a small doctor’s practice in Springs could be the site of
a possible medical breakthrough. Even more surprising is the reluctance in the
medical fraternity to further explore the potential of the sleeping pill, Stilnox,
which awoke a man from a seven-year coma. Dr Nel has dedicated the latter
part of his career to treating brain-damaged patients.

“What this film does is really give people hope. There’s so much misery and so
much hardship out there, so my aim was to tell this story in a positive manner
and to show the man behind the discovery and what he has done with it,’ says
Jooste, who is the film’s producer and director as well as Dr Nel’s niece.

A small production team which comprised of Jooste, trainee director and sound
technician Herbert Mashishi and cinematographer Gaopie Kaba shot the film in
Springs, Johannesburg using a Sony Z1 camera, over a few days in August
2012. Izette Mostert did the offline and online edit while the audio final mix was
done by Edit Cafe.

“I had a very good team and it was a pleasure to film Dr Wally with his positive
and warm attitude that is contagious,’ says Jooste, who was faced with the
challenge of fitting into Nel’s demanding schedule and finding appropriate
patients who were prepared to appear on camera.

While it’s clear that Nel, an honest and humble man of great character, has
made some positive and tangible improvements to the lives of the 800 patients
he has successfully treated with Stilnox, the film fails to probe the really gripping
issues on the table, leaving the audience with more questions than they may
have had to begin with.

The obstacles which Nel faces as he forges forward with his cause range from
lacking the financial support required to execute in-depth research or medical
trials, unwillingness on the part of the product manufacturer to promote or
possibly acknowledge that their product, which is currently prescribed as a
sleeping pill, has a number of miraculous and at the same time conflicting
qualities, and battling undertones of doubt in the ability of the pill and in the
doctor himself.

Ironically this controversy, along with a collection of conflicting viewpoints and
the feeling that there may be revelations lurking just beneath the surface, is
what entices audiences to watch this kind of film, which only manages to skim
over a vault of potentially captivating content.

“This film was relatively “easy’ to produce, although all documentaries have their
challenges, but I also chose to keep it simplistic, in line with the man I wanted to
portray,’ concludes Jooste.


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