Brink of Survival

Brink of Survival is a feature-length documentary that examines the responses of a tiny African community to the global epidemics of poverty and AIDS.

The film takes us inside a mission hospital in rural Malawi. In the midst of the health crisis ravaging sub-Saharan Africa, the staff of Embangweni Hospital in the impoverished Northern region of the country serves 120,000 people, all nearly free of charge, with just one doctor. Martha Sommers and her Malawian team face an array of challenges-- outdated and broken equipment, expired medication, donors with agendas, regular power outages that have them performing surgery in the dark. Perhaps the most devastating of all, the chronic “brain drain” of trained medical practitioners from the countryside to the cities and abroad leaves the hospital acutely understaffed. But this cadre of devoted professionals, equipped with equal faith in science and religion and a strong sense of community, works around the clock to bring healthy babies into the world, cure tuberculosis and malaria, wage war against AIDS and bury the dead. 

Brink of Survival presents a complex, multivocal picture of healing for contemporary times: It is music, theater, and dance; perseverance, celebration, and commiseration; donor aid from around the world and human resources from the community. As the hospital team negotiates the tension between modern medicine and traditional healing, the church and traditional religion, and colonialism and traditional culture, it finds that the problem of caring for people under perpetually precarious conditions has no simple cure.

Salome Chasnoff, director/camera

Jerzy Rose, editor/camera

Andrea Bunch, composer

Jesse Wheeler, sound recording/camera

Martha Sommers, Joyce Ngoma, George Mhoni and Mary Sommers, producers

Alex Inglizian, sound mix

Ellis Clark, music mix

Andrea Bunch, Dr. Brad, John Mead and Greg Nergaard, musicians

Featuring the music of the Sinda Jazz Band, the Embangweni Church Choir, the Embangweni Hospital Choir, and the women visiting the mobile clinics of Embangweni Hospital.

Supported in part by individual artist grants from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and individual donors.