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Ask the Filmmaker

Filmmaker Geoffrey Smith answers viewer questions about selecting subjects and the challenge of dealing with emotion while filming.

The English Surgeon: Geoffrey Smith

Yuka asks: Were there other subjects you were following or was Marian the only one? If there were other potential subjects, what drew you to Marian's story as opposed to the others?

Geoffrey Smith: Marian was someone I met six weeks before filming and I simply fell in love with him. His story is so representative of Ukraine and his faith and Church were so touching that I was clear we had the right character. We all warmed to him very much, and he to us. What made it more fascinating was that Henry thought he could perform an "awake craniotomy" (the first in Ukraine) on him to remove his "inoperable" tumour, if he would agree to it.

I never followed anyone else as we did not have the time to do so, as the night Marian is on the train, Henry was catching the plane to Kyiv and I had someone else film that in London.

Carolyn asks: Real powerful stuff...you did a great job. I just wonder how did you and your staff cope with such sorrow? I am surprised the camera kept so still — I'd be shaking with emotion.

Smith: Carolyn, I am often asked this question. The best answer I can give you is to say that when you call the Fire Brigade or the Police to an emergency, you certainly don't expect them, or indeed want them, to break down and sob their hearts out. Part of the reason why they don't is that like me they have a job to do. They are professionals who must follow protocols and they are busy worrying about a million things from water pressure to filling out forms. Likewise with me and the crew. We have one eye on what is happening in front of us, but the other half of our brain is checking things like focus, batteries, composition, have I got the shots we need, what is happpening next etc etc, so all that actually protects me from becoming too immersed in what is happening in front of me.

You might ask how can these trivial things be important when one is watching real life drama in front of the camera, but it is very important to remember that Henry, Igor and Marian have all graciously given me the privilege of telling their story, and that is a big responsibility and one I take very, very seriously. If I forgot to check focus or run out of battery power, I can really compromise the telling of their story and that would leave both them and myself worse off and very upset.





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He is firstly an artist and then a surgeon. He’s willing to look at surgery and surgeons. He’s prepared to be vulnerable ... He’s the very opposite of the arrogant, repressed surgical model.”

— Filmmaker Geoffrey Smith in Time Out London

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