Directed by Odette Schwegler, shining a spotlight on one of the rarest medical conditions: Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), which creates a second skeleton for patients as muscle, ligament and tissue slowly turns to bone, sending victims into a spiral towards immobility.
If you were to tell your average person with no knowledge of the condition, about a genetic disorder that turned a person’s muscles into bone, they might genuinely believe you were talking about science fiction which perfectly demonstrates why this film is necessary and the positive impact it can have. The disorder affects around one in every two million people, and is progressive to the point of causing their body to become frozen and unable to move, ranging from not being able to turn their head, bend their elbow or even walk at all. The documentary gives you enough introductory information to get a basic grasp on what FOP is but it certainly doesn’t prepare you for the heart-breaking stories that are to come. Diving right into to the youngest case that the film explores, it’s hard to watch an excitable toddler, full of life while being told of what her future holds, and that there’s nothing her parents can do about it. It’s a profound frustration that no parent ever wants to experience.
However, that child’s unstoppable desire to enjoy life runs not only through her case but of all those involved in the documentary. It’s consistently clear throughout that this community of people refuse to let their condition dictate their lives, yes they are forced to work around it any way they can but they will not give up and will continue to have fun, try new things and show people they’re so much more than their disability. It’s a story of hope amongst so much sadness, it’s gut wrenching to watch these parents struggle with the knowledge that their child can’t have the life that they saw for them and the sheer unending exasperation that a cure is far from realised. Despite that, none of them let it stop them for pushing to raise money to fund the research for treatments and to raise awareness of the condition.
One of the unusual things about this documentary is that it shows within how it can be helpful itself, it isn’t just informing you of FOP, it’s demonstrating how going into underserved communities and showing them footage like the film uses, can help people understand and diagnose it on a larger scale. Perhaps one of the most saddening elements the film explores is how in countries where access to quality medical care is a luxury most people don’t have, that there’s likely a number of undiagnosed cases that are being made worse by unnecessary, harmful treatment. On top of that there’s the reaction that they can have from society, while there’s still progress to be made in treatment of disabled people in western countries, there are those where someone with FOP would be treated as cursed or contagious. The film exposes the real need for those who can visit these communities and raise awareness to ensure that anyone suffering from the condition, gets the help they seek, however the poignant reality of it feels as though it’s an interminable task.
While this film’s key strength is the importance of the message that it’s sending and the information it holds, it’s also directed and edited in a way that cleverly balances the scientific and the emotional. Having the camera explore the neighbourhoods, towns and cities of the person they’re talking to adds an extra layer of depth, it isn’t simply talking heads, it’s giving you a view of their culture and their homes, a taste of their daily lives. They also show cases from a huge variety of backgrounds, all over the world, giving it that strong sense of community, in their joined determination to find a cure and demonstrating how much it means to them to interact with people who can understand their experiences first hand.
Tin Soldiers is an important instrument in bringing about awareness of one of the rarest conditions currently known, the stories it has to tell are both heart-breaking and full of life, while it may have a lot of sadness and frustration, it’s message is about banding together to fight a worthy cause. It’s also full of people who refuse the boxes that society will try to put them in, not letting their condition define them, they’re pushing for a cure but they’re not sitting around waiting for it, they’re getting out there and living their lives as much as they can. That sincere embrace of life balanced brilliantly with the very informative scientific side provide for a compelling, poignant and important film, these filmmakers have shown genuine care, consideration and generosity through the film’s style, and though it may be hard at times to watch, it will certainly stick with you.