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Behind the Scenes

MADELEINE HETHERTON, SERIES PRODUCER ~ "SOMETIMES A DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER CAN GET LOST IN CULTURAL TRANSLATION. WEST AFRICA IS A MELTING POT OF LANGUAGES, TRIBES AND RELIGIONS – CHRISTIAN, MUSLIM AND A WIDE RANGE OF TRADITIONAL AFRICAN ANIMIST PRACTICES. ON THIS DAY I ASKED OUR TRANSLATOR IF WE COULD FILM SOME OF THE CULTURAL PRACTICES OF WEST AFRICA. HE SAID YES AND WE DULY TRAIPSED OFF TO FILM AN EVENT. TO MY GREAT SURPRISE AND AMUSEMENT WE WERE PRESENTED WITH A THEATRICAL TROUPE THAT ENACTED A VERSION OF THE LOCAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE WITCHES OF GUINEA. I STILL HAVE NO REAL IDEA OF WHAT WENT ON THAT DAY, BUT IT WAS PORTRAYED WITH GREAT JOY AND SPIRIT AND ENORMOUS FUN… AND MEAT." #SURGERYSHIP

MADELEINE HETHERTON, SERIES PRODUCER ~ "THE SURGERY SHIP FILM & SERIES COMES FROM A VERY PERSONAL PLACE. IN 2009 AFTER A COMPLICATED PREGNANCY I GAVE BIRTH TO A VERY PREMATURE AND SICK BABY. WE WERE BOTH LUCKY TO SURVIVE. I RECOVERED RELATIVELY QUICKLY, BUT MY SON ZEKE SPENT OVER A YEAR IN HOSPITAL STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE. IT WAS A LONG, DARK JOURNEY PUNCTUATED BY MANY TERRIFYING ADMISSIONS INTO INTENSIVE CARE - THE FACT HE SURVIVED IS A TRIBUTE TO THE EXTRAORDINARY CARE AND EXPERTISE OF THE MEDICAL STAFF THAT LOOKED AFTER US. OVER THAT TIME, WE BECAME CLOSE TO A NUMBER OF DOCTORS AND NURSES – ONE OF THEM WAS A VOLUNTEER ON THE AFRICA MERCY HOSPITAL SHIP. MY CURIOSITY WAS AWOKEN: WHAT WOULD LIFE BE LIKE IN A PART OF THE WORLD, WHICH HAS ALMOST NO ACCESS TO MODERN MEDICINE? I WAS PARTICULARLY CAUGHT BY THE IMMENSELY DIFFICULT PROBLEM OF CHOOSING WHO WOULD BE HELPED AND WHO WOULD BE TURNED AWAY. MY TIME IN HOSPITAL PAINTED ALL TO VIVID A PICTURE OF WHAT THE HUMAN AND EMOTIONAL TOLL THIS WOULD TAKE ON THE DOCTORS AND NURSES. AND MY EXPERIENCE AS A NEW MOTHER TOLD ME THE DEVASTATION FOR A PARENT TO NURSE A CRITICALLY SICK CHILD – AND TO HAVE NO ONE TO TURN TO FOR HELP. ZEKE STABILIZED AND WE FINALLY LEFT HOSPITAL, A FEW YEARS LATER WHEN I STARTED TO RETURN TO WORK, THIS WAS THE STORY I WANTED TO TELL. ZEKE IS NOW OLD ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THE STORIES OF THE SHIP AND HE IS FASCINATED BY THE CHILDREN AND OFTEN ASKS ME ABOUT THEM. WE LIVE BY THE OCEAN AND HE IS ENDLESSLY POINTING OUT TO SHIPS ON THE HORIZON AND ASKING IF THAT IT THE MERCY SHIP. I WOULDN͛T BE SURPRISED IF HE ENDS UP ON BOARD ONE DAY!" #SURGERYSHIP

WE FIRST MET SHY AND SWEET MAIMOUNA BACK IN 2013 WHEN WE WERE FILMING THE SURGERY SHIP FEATURE FILM. WHEN WE WENT BACK TO SHOOT THE TV SERIES LAST YEAR, WE HADN'T IMAGINED WE WOULD SEE MAIMOUNA AGAIN. IT WAS A BITTER SWEET REUNION. WATCH MAIMOUNA'S INCREDIBLE STORY TONIGHT AT 7.30PM AEST ON NATGEO PEOPLE, FOXTEL. #SURGERYSHIP #FOXTEL

READY TO TAKE A TOUR OF THE AFRICA MERCY?! AT 7PM TONIGHT ANESTHESIOLOGIST DR BARKI WILL TAKE YOU A TOUR OF THE SHIP VIA FACEBOOK LIVE. YOU CAN ASK DR BARKI YOUR OWN QUESTIONS - JUST ADD THEM AS COMMENTS TO THE LIVE STREAM FROM THE @THESURGERYSHIP FACEBOOK PAGE. IMMEDIATELY AFTER FROM 7.30PM, EPISODE 3 OF THE #SURGERYSHIP WILL AIR ON THE NAT GEO PEOPLE CHANNEL ON FOXTEL.

WHAT'S LIFE LIKE ABOARD THE AFRICA MERCY? ON EPISODE 3 TOMORROW NIGHT, HEAR FROM DR GARY PARKER AND CAPTAIN JOHN BORROW, REFLECTING ON THEIR DECADES WITH THE MERCY SHIPS. TUNE IN AT 7.30PM AEDT ON THE NAT GEO PEOPLE CHANNEL ON FOXTEL IN AUSTRALIA. DON'T HAVE FOXTEL? TRIAL IT FOR TWO WEEKS FREE. LINK IN BIO. #SURGERYSHIP

"WE WERE OVERWHELMED BY THE RESPONSE TO THE DOCUMENTARY IN 2013 AND WE KNEW THAT THERE WERE MORE STORIES TO BE TOLD... IT'S BEEN INCREDIBLE TO GO BACK AND TELL THESE STORIES THROUGH A TV SERIES." ~ MADELEINE HETHERTON, CONCEPT CREATOR & SERIES PRODUCER MADELEINE IS AN EXPERIENCED AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER WORKING ACROSS A WIDE RANGE OF TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY AND TOP RATING FACTUAL PROGRAMS AND SERIES. HER FILMMAKING HAS TAKEN HER AROUND THE WORLD SHOOTING IN CHALLENGING LOCATIONS INCLUDING DIAMOND DIVING IN AFRICA, WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING IN BURMA AND THE REMOTE OUTBACK OF AUSTRALIA. #SURGERYSHIP #DOCUMENTARY

RUTH AND MARINA: TWO OF THE STARS OF TUESDAY NIGHT'S EPISODE THAT HAD OUR HEARTS MELTING. #SURGERYSHIP #FOXTEL #NATGEOPEOPLE

"VOODOO IS A LIVING CULTURE THAT PERMEATES EVERY PART OF LIFE IN BENIN – RELIGION, MUSIC, MEDICINE, ART. ACCORDING TO TRADITION, SPIRITS CALLED ZANGBETOS MAINTAIN LAW AND ORDER. LIKE NIGHT WATCHMEN THEY SEEK OUT CRIMINALS AND PUNISH THEM. IT’S A TRADITION THAT LIVES ON IN FESTIVALS AND THE RITUALS OF DAILY LIFE. ACCOMPANIED BY FRENZIED DRUMMING THEY PATROL THE STREETS, SPINNING WILDLY AND CONFRONTING EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING IN THEIR PATH – EVEN CARS. WHEN WE FIRST HAD THE CHANCE TO FILM THEM IN ACTION ONE OF THEM CHARGED THE CAMERAMAN, SENDING HIM FLYING. BENEATH THE LAYERS OF DYED GRASS YOU KNOW THERE’S A PERSON IN THERE BUT THAT’S NOT HOW YOU RELATE TO THEM. PEOPLE WHO’VE GROWN UP IN THIS CULTURE SEEM NOT TO QUESTION THE FACT THAT ZANGBETOS ARE SPIRITS. TO MY WESTERN MIND THE BEST ANALOGY I CAN THINK OF IS BEING IN THE PRESENCE OF A WILD BEAST – UNPREDICTABLE, POWERFUL AND BEAUTIFUL." ~ ALEX BARRY, DIRECTOR PHOTO CREDIT @ALEX.BARRY.DIRECTOR

"RAMANI TEACHES THE KORAN TO CHILDREN AT THE MOSQUE WHERE HIS FATHER IS THE IMAM. HE’S MARRIED WITH A YOUNG SON. HE’S QUIET BUT WHEN HE SPEAKS HIS VOICE IS DEEP AND UNUSUALLY ROUNDED, AS THOUGH HIS MOUTH IS FULL. RAMANI HAS A RARE CONDITION THAT CAUSES THE SOFT TISSUES AND BONES OF HIS FACE TO GROW ABNORMALLY. IT MADE THE LEFT SIDE OF HIS FACE BOW OUTWARDS. SINCE THE AGE OF 9 HE’S HAD MULTIPLE SURGERIES TO ATTEMPT TO CORRECT HIS DEFORMITY. EACH OF THOSE SURGERIES WAS DESIGNED TO REDUCE THE SOFT TISSUE MASS ONLY, LEAVING THE UNDERLYING BONE UNCHANGED. NOW HE’S FULLY GROWN, MERCY SHIPS MAXILLOFACIAL SURGEONS DR GARY PARKER AND DR KYLEY WOOD ADDRESS THE BONE. IN AN EPIC 15-HOUR SURGERY THEY REALIGNED THE ENTIRE ARCHITECTURE OF HIS SKULL, MID FACE AND JAW. IT WAS A RADICAL FORM OF COSMETIC SURGERY. RAMANI IS A STRONG AND PROUD MAN, BUT I COULD TELL HE WAS SCARED. WHAT WILL HIS NEW FACE LOOK LIKE? HE’LL HAVE TO ENDURE ANOTHER SURGERY AND MONTHS OF HEALING BEFORE HE FINDS OUT." ~ ALEX BARRY, DIRECTOR PHOTO CREDIT @CLARKEMURPHY

"I FELL IN LOVE WITH RUTH. EVERYONE DID. SHE WAS SO QUIET AND CIRCUMSPECT AT FIRST. ALWAYS WATCHING AND LISTENING. IN HER OWN LITTLE WORLD. THAT PROBABLY HAD A LOT TO DO WITH WHAT SHE’D BEEN THROUGH. WHEN SHE WAS LESS THAN TWO YEARS OLD A POT OF BOILING SOUP SPILLED OVER HER. BECAUSE OF A LACK OF APPROPRIATE TREATMENT, OVER TIME HER BURNS TURNED INTO THICK SCARS AND THE SKIN BETWEEN HER ARMS AND HER CHEST CONTRACTED, FORMING LITTLE WINGS OF SCAR TISSUE. ON THE SURGERY SHIP SHE MET MARINA, ANOTHER 5-YEAR- OLD GIRL WITH AN ALMOST IDENTICAL INJURY. THEY BONDED IMMEDIATELY AND SOON BECAME KNOWN AS THE TWINS. EVERY DAY WE WERE FILMING ON THE SHIP I COULDN’T HELP GOING TO VISIT THEM. THEY’D HAD SURGERY TO RELEASE THEIR CONTRACTURES, AND THEIR ARMS WERE IN BANDAGED SPLINTS HELD HIGH ABOVE THEIR HEADS, LIKE THEY WERE PERMANENTLY CELEBRATING. OVER WEEKS OF HEALING RUTH EMERGED MORE AND MORE FROM HER SHELL, CHARMING EVERYONE THAT CAME NEAR HER. IT WAS A BITTERSWEET DAY WHEN THEY LEFT THE SHIP." ~ ALEX BARRY, DIRECTOR @NATGEOAU @MEDIASTOCKADE @MERCYSHIPSAU @MERCYSHIPS #SURGERYSHIP

MEET ALEX BARRY - AWARD WINNING DOCUMENTARY MAKER AND DIRECTOR OF THE #SURGERYSHIP SERIES. FOR THE NEXT 4 DAYS, ALEX WILL BE *TAKING OVER* THIS ACCOUNT, SHARING HIS FAVOURITE PICS AND STORIES FROM BENIN. FROM VOODOO, TO IMPOSSIBLE SURGERIES TO FUTURE SOCCER STARS - THE STORIES TRAVERSE A RANGE OF EXPERIENCES THAT HAD A POWERFUL IMPACT ON ALEX. WATCH THIS SPACE...

THE WAIT IN AUSTRALIA IS NEARLY OVER! EPISODE 1 OF THE THE #SURGERYSHIP PREMIERS AT 7.30PM AEST TONIGHT ON NAT GEO PEOPLE. THE EASIEST WAY TO VIEW THE ENTIRE 8-PART SERIES IS TO SIGN UP TO FOXTEL PLAY. START A FREE TWO-WEEK TRIAL - LINK IN BIO.

EXCITING NEWS! THE INCREDIBLE DR GARY PARKER WILL BE LIVE ON FACEBOOK TONIGHT FROM 7PM AEST. DR PARKER IS CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER ON BOARD AFRICA MERCY - HE'LL BE CHATTING ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES OVER 30 YEARS SERVING WITH MERCY SHIPS. THE INTERVIEW WILL BE LIVE FROM #SURGERYSHIPS FACEBOOK PAGE: @THESURGERYSHIP, LINK IN BIO.

"IT'S THAT INSTINCT IN YOU ... I JUST HAVE THAT INSTINCT OF 'WELL OF COURSE I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING TO HELP.'" MEET DR NERIDA MOORE - A YOUNG AUSSIE DOCTOR WHO PREVIOUSLY VOLUNTEERED ON THE SHIP AS A SURGEON SPECIALISING IN PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY. SHE DECIDED TO RETRAIN AS A PAEDIATRICIAN, PARTLY AS A RESULT OF HER EXPERIENCES AS A VOLUNTEER ONBOARD @MERCYSHIPS. IF SHE LOOKS FAMILIAR, THAT'S BECAUSE SHE APPEARED IN THE #SURGERYSHIP FEATURE FILM IN 2013, THAT INSPIRED THE 8 PART SERIES LAUNCHING THIS TUESDAY.

OUR RED CARPET LAUNCH IN SYDNEY LAST NIGHT WAS A HUGE SUCCESS - NOW WE CAN'T WAIT FOR THE MAIN EVENT! #SURGERYSHIP HITS AUSTRALIAN TV SCREENS NEXT TUESDAY AT 7.30PM ON @NATGEOAU - PUT IT IN THE DIARY! @MERCYSHIPSAU @SCREENNSW @SCREENAUSTRALIA

TIME TO SCRUB UP! TONIGHT IS THE AUSTRALIAN 'RED CARPET' LAUNCH OF THE #SURGERYSHIP! EPISODE 1 AIRS ON @NATGEOAU TUESDAY, BUT TONIGHT OUR GUESTS WILL GET A SNEAK PEAK AT THE @AUSTRALIANMUSEUM. WE COULDN'T BE MORE EXCITED. HAPPY SNAPS TO COME...

LOTS OF SMILES AROUND HERE ON #THESURGERYSHIP! #MERCYSHIPS #SURGERYSHIP

FACT: IF YOU WALK AROUND COTONOU HOLDING A FUNNY LOOKING MACHINE WITH LOTS OF BUTTONS YOU WILL BECOME VERY POPULAR ? #THESURGERYSHIP #SURGERYSHIP

HAPPY MONDAY FROM OUR POST-PRODUCTION TEAM! #THESURGERYSHIP

NEW YEAR, NEW HORIZONS! WE CAN'T WAIT TO SHARE MORE #BEHINDTHESECENES CONTENT FROM #THESURGERYSHIP WITH YOU IN 2017! #HAPPYNEWYEAR #POSTPRODUCTION

IT'S OFFICIAL: @NATGEO WAS HERE ?

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Go further behind the scenes of The Surgery Ship with the Director’s Diary

The team behind The Surgery Ship spent four months filming on location in West Africa. Here director Alex Barry shares his diary.

 

17 August 2016

The first thing we’re told to do when we arrive in Benin is something so ordinary, and yet it jolts me out of my jetlagged haze. We’re told to wash our hands. The devastation wrought by Ebola is a living memory in this part of the world. Over 10,000 people died. More than 30,000 were infected. And one of the main reasons the disease spread so rapidly and killed so many was the lack of basic sanitation. Over the next few months of filming in Benin we wash our hands a lot. On the ship it becomes second nature. We wash them before boarding. We reach instinctively for hand sanitiser dispensers as we pass them in corridors. Everyone on board – medics, deckhands, patients – is required to do this. Even the President of Benin, when he visits the ship, has to lather up before climbing the gangway. For me this seemingly small but potentially life-saving procedure is a symbol of the huge challenges Mercy Ships faces delivering healthcare in West Africa.

22 August 2016

It’s the first day of screenings at Don Bosco in Cotonou. Don Bosco is a school and a group of local boys is playing soccer on the sandy pitch. Meanwhile in the screening line five young boys with severely bowed legs wait together with their mothers. Later, inside at one of the screening tables, nurse Mel asks one of the boys, 8-year-old Isaac, what kind of games he likes to play. Isaac says he loves soccer, but recently the boys he plays with told him they don’t want him to play anymore because he’s too slow. Through the open shutters of the classroom screams of excitement can be heard from outside as a goal is scored. The cameraman, sound recordist and I all stop and look at one another. It’s one of many poignant and arresting moments in our first day of filming the work of Mercy Ships.

10 September 2016

Today we visit a young burns patient Marina and her family at Fijrosse Beach, a very bumpy half-hour drive along the coast from where the Africa Mercy is docked. When we arrive Marina, her sisters and friends take us down onto the sand to play. They seem to have an endless stock of games involving dancing, singing and clapping. The youngest child in the group starts to cry rather loudly so I pick him up and rock him on my shoulder, off-camera, much to the relief of the sound recordist. This becomes a theme of the visit. Our translator Bernadette also has her baby son with her, wrapped on her back in the African way. To keep him quiet while we film with Marina’s mum and dad Bernadette performs a kind of side-to-side jig familiar to parents all over the world. At a crucial point in the interview Marina’s baby brother Samuel wakes up and starts to wail. I retrieve him from his cot and begin a side-to-side jig of my own. And there we are – director and translator dancing side-to-side while Marina’s parents quietly recount the near-fatal moment she spilled boiling soup all over herself.

22 September 2016

During the morning’s surgical team briefing the crew is warned that the surgery we’re about to film may take all day. The patient is Ramani, a 27-year-old Muslim man with a rare disease that has caused the bone and soft tissue of his face to grow abnormally. Today maxillofacial surgeons Dr Gary and Dr Kyley will address the bone deformity. They plan to realign the symmetry of his skull. To me, the most staggering part of this is that it’s essentially a cosmetic procedure. Ramani’s condition is not life threatening. But, as Dr Gary explains, it is gravely threatening his quality of life, and therefore it’s a justifiable use of the ship’s limited resources. The surgeons begin by peeling Ramani’s scalp down to his eye level. They saw and chip away at the overgrown bone on the left side of his cranium. Then they grind it into tiny fragments, mix it with bone putty, and pack the mealy mass under a titanium plate to fill the depression on the right side of his skull. Each of us in the crew agrees this is one of the most amazing things we’ve ever witnessed, and it’s only the first of several stages. The surgery does indeed take all day. 15 hours, in fact. In the American hospital where Dr Kyley works, he estimates this one surgery alone would have cost upwards of $100,000.

18 October 2016

The latest round of maxillofacial screenings is underway on the dock. In the screening tent Dr Gary is mentoring a local Beninese maxillofacial surgeon, Dr Yurian. Almost 20 years ago, when Mercy Ships did its first field service in Benin, Dr Gary worked with Dr Yurian’s father, a local paediatric surgeon. Today the first patient screened is Prunel, a baby boy with a cleft lip. Dr Gary immediately recognises Prunel’s mother, Emilienne. He operated on her 19 years earlier to correct the same deformity. Dr Gary – a 30-year veteran of Mercy Ships – jokes that these two connections to his past make him feel very old. But it’s a happy reunion. With Dr Yurian translating, Dr Gary reassures Emilienne that the fact her child has a cleft is due to genetics and not because she has done anything wrong. A common myth in Beninese culture is that clefts are a curse placed on the child as punishment for the mother’s wrongdoing. But Dr Gary says that’s untrue and that he can see she’s a good mother because her baby is plump and healthy. Emilienne’s relief is palpable.

18 November 2016

In a local clinic in Cotonou, Mercy Ships’ clubfoot specialist Nick is taking a step back. Over the last few months he’s been mentoring Beninese physiotherapists in the Ponseti method of treating clubfeet. It’s a process that begins with serial casting to stretch the foot into proper alignment, then a neat little surgery called a tenotomy that involves cutting the Achilles tendon before casting one last time and allowing the tendon to regrow, only this time a little longer. Finally, the cast is removed and a specially made brace is fitted. Until now Nick has been the driver of each stage, but today he’s letting one of the local physiotherapists, Melchior, take the lead. The Ponseti Clinic is part of Mercy Ships’ Capacity Building Program, which aims to train and mentor local people so that when the ship leaves, its expertise remains. Melchior is already a highly qualified physiotherapist, but this program has given him new skills. And if you’re ever in Cotonou, he gives the best deep tissue massages on earth.