‘Make People Better,’ screening at the Roxie Saturday as part of the Green Film Festival, is as much a mystery as it is a documentary.
By John Seal Oct. 06, 2022, 1:32 p.m.
In Walter Besant’s 1888 novel The Inner House, a scientist makes a medical discovery that allows human beings to live forever; his discovery is adopted by the state and shared with the people, but future generations find themselves devolving into brainless, loveless and purposeless automatons. While the novel is poorly written and resolutely Victorian, it does make a good point: Our mortality is our driving force. For better or worse, we don’t have great deal of time to navel gaze.
In Make People Better (screening at the Roxie Theater at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9, as part of this year’s Green Film Festival of San Francisco), we learn that 21st century scientists are working on gene therapy that — while unlikely to guarantee immortality — may be able to fix flaws in our DNA that currently cause hereditary disease and birth defects. The film focuses on idealistic Chinese scientist He Jiankui, who — inspired by American geneticist George Church (currently involved in a CIA-funded effort to resurrect the woolly mammoth) — took the science to its logical conclusion by “creating” genetically edited twin babies for an anonymous, HIV-infected Chinese couple.
Directed by Cody Sheedy, Make People Better is as much a mystery as it is a documentary. While focusing on the serious ethical questions raised by He’s work, it also criticizes the scientific community that opportunistically abandoned him and the Chinese government that disappeared and then imprisoned him. It’s captivating and edge-of-your-seat stuff that reminded me of one of Frankenstein’s most powerful moments.