Body Team 12: The Essence of Documentary Filmmaking
In thirteen minutes, the short documentary film Body Team 12 shows the resilience of human beings, as well as the deep injustices that are faced when a crisis comes along and wrecks havoc on normal life. And that’s the most beautiful thing about the film, that it gives respect to everyone, regardless of social status or circumstances. There’s also no sensationalism or exploitation of the events that took place in 2015 Liberia, and that’s incredibly important. The audience gets a sense of the horrific pain that the bereaved families are feeling without resorting to cheap gimmicks. It’s one of the few documentaries I’ve seen in recent years about the Ebola crisis that doesn’t heavily rely on the medical side of the story. I loved this short documentary because it didn’t feel “sterile” and un-human. Within the thirteen minutes it takes for the story to unfold, I saw several things that felt extraordinarily unique for a film of its nature. One being the camera operator and camera movement, and the other being one of the main focus of the documentary herself, Garmai Sumo.
David Darg is the director and cinematographer of Body Team 12, and his use of the camera is what really makes the documentary work. He is constantly hovering in and around the action without disrupting it. At the start of the film, there is a thirty-second continuous shot where we see 4 figures in hazmat suits carrying a body sheathed in plastic. A woman’s voice overlays with the image, and she gives a haunting monologue about death and what happens when you leave this earth. It’s an amazingly effective way to introduce the audience to both the premise and the tone of the documentary. Darg doesn’t hesitate to get closer to his subjects either. He zooms closer to faces and bodies when the unfolding events require it and he backs off respectfully to give breathing space to the medical team. Close-ups of muddy boots, wet gloved hands, and sweat on foreheads place the audience directly into the panic and disarray.
Garmai Sumo is the real heart of the film. She is the only woman on Body Team 12, and it’s important that she’s there, caring for people. After washing down her hazmat suit with liquid bleach, Sumo muses that “women are mothers, sisters. We are soft people.” Without women, the team might be unpurposely cold, when many times the grieving families need a gentle, caring presence. And gentle she is: Sumo is nothing but respectful of the bodies. She takes great care to offer sympathy to those around her and the families of the deceased and sick. She’s driven too, as she works for almost 15 hours straight, collecting bodies to be cremated at the end of the shift. Sumo has endured being shunned by her friends and the fear of contracting Ebola or bringing it home to her son. But despite all that, she comes off as incredibly warm and deeply caring. I admire that she’s the main focus of the documentary. Sumo brings a sense of humanity to the horrific events happening all around her community. She made me grateful that I watched Body Team 12. I was so unaware of how bad the Ebola crisis was from a humanistic standpoint, because I always saw reports talking about the death toll, how the virus destroys the body, etc. but never how the actual people react; how they’re feeling. Body Team 12 somewhat slipped under the radar in terms of viewership, which is a shame. It’s a story that needs to be seen and understood, or else we’re in danger of brushing any event like it that comes next under the rug.