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1 review, 2 user ratings

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by Chris Parry

"A topic that should be tackled, but tackled better than this."
2 stars

There’s nothing worse that watching a documentary on a subject that you know, deep down, must be looked at, only to find that the documentary maker has utterly botched the job. Mama/M.A.M.A. is just such a film; the topic matter is heart-wrenching and as important as any story out there today, yet the film itself is long, dreary, confusing and ultimately far too in love with the idea of presenting every detail of the situation without thought for clarity or maintaining the audience's interest.

Can anyone argue that the drug companies are amongst the most evil aspects of the entire capitalist system? Obviously without drug companies much of the research done that makes us live longer and healthier might never happen, yet when a drug company creates a cure for a situation it seldom makes that cure inexpensively available. AIDS drugs costs next to nothing to produce, but they’re sold for a fortune. Cancer drugs are available to some patients, but only at a hefty price. And some drugs, like one commonly used remedy that is readily taken by adults but potentially devastating to children, is sold to doctors as being healthy for kids when common evidence says otherwise.

Why would they do such a thing? Simply, because such actions widen the market for the drug, and as long as the potentially fatal side effects can be blamed on something else, the drug company can get away with it. Shifting that blame becomes far easier when you can recruit doctors and researchers to actively promote your side of the story.

Mama/M.A.M.A. tells the stories of three mothers who have been accused of putting their children in danger. They’re told they have Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy, a situation where they’re alleged to make their children sick by telling doctors of faked health problems. The treatments then, inevitably, do make the children sick, further satisfying the urges of these women to be seen as the poor caring mother with a sick child.

The problem here, as this documentary does show, is that the problems aren’t always faked. In fact, authorities worldwide are regularly content to take the children away from their mothers as soon as a Munchausen’s accusation is lodged. If a doctor says the child’s problems are down to mom’s interference, the authorities don’t ask questions, they just take the kid. The problem with that mindset is that often the child’s health problems come when the mother is absent, and when the mother has been actively removed the problems sometimes get worse. Why does this happen?

If the evidence here is to be believed, it’s because the problem comes from a drug used to calm these children’s stomachs. A drug that doesn’t calm them at all, and in fact causes devastating problems that can and have resulted in death. Perhaps not coincidentally, the doctors that regularly make the Munchausen’s accusations are intrinsically linked to the very drug companies that manufacture the drug in question. If word came out that these children were dying as a result of the drug, it would cost literally billions – far cheaper to just buy out a few doctors and send them out to make deflective accusations anytime a kid starts to blow up like a balloon.

This isn’t a new theory, that drug companies will do anything to avoid losing a profit stream, even if their drug is doing more harm than good. Drug companies only recently stopped using a mercury-based compound called Thimerosal as a preservative in children’s vaccines, once evidence was publicized that in the three decades since 1970 the rate of autism in children in the USA has risen from 1 in 2000, to 1 in 250 – a rise that directly correlates with the rise in the number of vaccines given to babies. Not only did drug companies avoid telling the public that this preservative could be harming their children, they actively disguised the fact, and then had the US Government sneak a law change into the Homeland Security Bill that removed the right of parents to be able to sue a company for any side effects stemming from a vaccination. All of this information, by the way, comes from my own personal research, not anything present in Mama/M.A.M.A. And that’s part of my problem with the film.

While the topic here could not be more important, the execution of this documentary is, frankly, awful. About an hour too long and continually trying to cut back and forth between the lives of each of the three subjects, the audience is left confused, tired and ultimately desperate to hear exactly what the point is for at least a good half of this film. Though the research done to paint the picture is undoubtedly impressive, it would take a dedicated viewer to keep from changing the channel as we listen to mothers squawk, see pictures of dying children and hear every detail of the least important aspect of this story – the lives of the mothers – while the real story is left for the end. Though it’s terrible that these women lose their kids, surely it’s far more important that we find out why these children are dying and haul those accountable before disciplinary panels and judges.

If director Nonny de la Pena cut this film back to an hour and did a little more digging so as to really catch these bad guys with their pants down, you’d have a piece of work that would not only show a subject that needs showing to a wide audience, but also bring about real change to the world. De la Pena is certainly no hack, having previously been nominated for an Oscar for her documentary Death on the Job, but one fears she’s fallen victim to the hardest trap to avoid in the documentary business; she simply cares about the subject matter too much.

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originally posted: 03/19/03 05:15:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/20/04 Sandra Parocai very informative 4 stars
5/20/03 Randy Wright Dreadfully undocumented documentary 2 stars
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  08-Mar-2003 (NR)
  DVD: 02-Nov-2004



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