Directed by Swiss photographer and Calcutta Rescue supporter, Benoit Lange, and shot by leading European cinematographer, Camille Cottagnoud, the film “Doctor Jack” was the public’s choice as “Best Film” at the Solothurn Film Festival in Switzerland. The award of £15,500 was donated to Calcutta Rescue.
Earlier, in 2016, the film was awarded as the “Best Documentary” in the 5th International Mumbai Shorts Movie Festival.
The film also got an award in Noida (near Delhi) Film Festival in 2017. The movie continues to receive critical acclaim across India and in March, 2018 it was awarded “The Special Jury Prize” at the Indian World Film Festival in Hyderabad.
The subject of the film, Dr. Jack Preger, was born in Manchester, England in 1930. He studied at Oxford University before becoming a farmer in Wales. Driving his tractor one day, a mysterious voice told him to become a doctor – prompting him to start a degree in medicine at the age of 35. Following a radio appeal, he went out to the newly-created Bangladesh where he established a 90-bed clinic for war refugees and two farms where they could live and work. But he was deported in 1979 after exposing a child-smuggling ring.
He flew to Calcutta, where he began providing free medical care to some of the multitude of people living on the streets in abject poverty. Alone at first, and with very little money, he opened his medical bag and started treating patients on the pavement under a flyover.
Over time, Western travelers, who saw the vital work he was doing, stopped to offer money and help. Despite repeated challenges, from crime bosses to hostile bureaucrats who forced him to fight repeated legal battles, even throwing him in jail at one point, he set up the Charity, Calcutta Rescue, in 1991, and established a series of street clinics and schools. These have helped more than half a million people over the past 38 years.
Benoit Lange, the film maker and Swiss photo-journalist, who has supported Dr Jack’s work for three decades have been travelling back and forth from India. Mr. Lange said: “I really did not expect this recognition. In my experience, social inequality has been a taboo subject in India. But societal norms seem to have changed considerably in the last ten years, and the emerging middle class is becoming more attuned to social and environmental issues. I have witnessed a real step change in terms of what is being done to tackle inequality and perhaps this award signifies that”.
He continued, “While the film shows some of the issues of poverty that a burgeoning economy like India still has, my main objective was to tell the world about the heroic efforts and achievements of one man, his life and his never-ending fight.”
Dr. Jack turned 88 in July, 2018, and decided to finally return to his place of birth. He is sorely missed by all his torch-bearers in Kolkata, but they and the various Support Groups in Europe and North America always look to him for inspiration and guidance.
The film has been subtitled in English, and it was shown in Kolkata in Priya Cinema in February, 2018. It is now available for showing in the United States.