Hot Docs 2022: Our Review of ‘Make People Better’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2022, Movies by - April 30, 2022
Hot Docs 2022: Our Review of ‘Make People Better’

Genetically modifying anything isn’t necessarily the most popular scientific cause. Cody Sheehy’s Make People Better, then, uses two other scientific advancements and compare it with its main subjects, genetically modifying babies. One comparison is with GMO plants, which cause protests for reasons more valid than the documentary shows it is. The second is IVF, which, as it states, is the reason 1 out of 82 babies exist today.

Make People narrows its scope down and focuses on a man who tried to advance IVF and CRISPR to create twins who are immune to HIV. That man in He Jiankuei or He JK. The film then covers a four month period of his life from the announcement of his controversial project. It ends to when the People’s Republic decided that his project was so controversial that they must punish him for it. The film also uses an actor standing in for his collaborator.

Watching a documentary limit its scope is both necessary and a problem. It’s totally understandable for people passionate towards a certain subject to lose themselves into the weeds. And thankfully, Sheehy can control his subject without making it look like he’s controlling them. His narrative also makes sense here, where the West’s sandbagging of JK causes the People’s Republic to do the same. There is, however, room for a few more subjects and voices here. Make People Better makes it seem like JK is the only Asian man in a field where white men dominate. It also relegates CRISPR’s inventor/ discoverer to archive news footage. This sidelining is also evident in the fact that most viewers – projecting here – probably already forgot her name by the time the end credits roll up. (Yes, we have Google). But at least it gives a voice to someone who can’t speak for himself.

Watch Make People Better at Hot Docs.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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