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CAM-produced documentary seeks to save lives on roads in India

Man behind SaveLIFE foundation a 'modern Gandhi,' says CU Denver filmmaker

6/21/2012
Roads are chaotic and congested in India, making the country the deadliest for traffic accidents


By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER - With roads that are congested and chaotic, India leads the globe in the number of road accident fatalities. In Dehli alone traffic accidents cause 2,000 deaths a year.

To expose the problem and spotlight a nonprofit's efforts create a network of first responders, a team of filmmakers at the University of Colorado Denver is making a documentary entitled "The Golden Hour." Roma Sur and Jessica Lance McGaugh, instructors in the College of Arts & Media, and Deana Macdonald, a student in the Theatre, Film & Video Production Department, hope to finish the film this summer.

"The first hour after an accident is when a victim has the highest chance of survival if he or she gets proper medical care," Sur said. "It's called the 'golden hour.'"

She was inspired to make the documentary after hearing an interview that ran on NPR radio about Piyush Tewari, an Indian who founded the SaveLIFE Foundation and won the 2010 Rolex Young Laureate Award.

In India, 20 people die and 60 are seriously injured in roadside accidents per hour. It was one of the fatalities -- Tewari's 17-year-old cousin -- that spurred the private equities manager to launch SaveLIFE and create a chain of first responders. The foundation, which is a coalition of the Delhi police, hospitals and government, is focused on training bystanders to be volunteers on an accident scene.

"He thought he really needed to do something about this problem," Sur said. "It's very hard for one man to make a change like this, especially in Indian society, because there are a lot of skeptics."

Having a network made up primarily by volunteers trained in CPR is critical because the greater Delhi region, an area of 20 million people, has only about 35 fully equipped ambulances. Eighty percent of victims receive no emergency help within the first hour after an accident.

To remedy the situation through government, police and public-awareness channels is "no small task," Sur said. Tewari is opening a call center that will quickly deploy trained volunteers to accident scenes near the city of Thane, which is at the end of one of India's most deadly roads. His foundation has provided training sessions in basic life support to more than 2,000 police officers as well as 500 citizens.

"In my mind, (Tewari) is like a modern Gandhi," Sur said. "That's why I was so impressed and touched and awed by this story. That's why I reached out to him."

Tewari liked the CU Denver team's idea for the film and cooperated with multiple interviews when Sur, McGaugh and Macdonald traveled to India for filming in June 2011. Renowned percussionist Salar Nader will provide music for the documentary.

"We say it's a human rights film. It's about safety -- the right of each human to be safe," Macdonald said. "It's about education, volunteerism and preparedness. That's the No. 1 thing the Red Cross is constantly talking about -- be prepared."

Macdonald said the goal is to show "The Golden Hour" in other countries where roadside injuries and fatalities are also a problem, including China, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

Macdonald said the project was helped by an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Grant, travel funds from the College of Arts & Media as well as the "crowdfunding" site Kickstarter.

"The University of Colorado Denver is going to get a nice credit on this film," Macdonald said. "They've been extremely helpful."

Tewari hopes to replicate his model for the call center and trained volunteers in other areas of India, as well as other roadway danger spots around the world.

The Rolex Young Laureate is awarded only once every four years, Sur said, signifying the effect Tewari's campaign is having on her native India. Given all the challenges he faced, "it's very easy to fall into negativity and give up," she said. "He stood up and kept at it."

The filmmakers, who still need to gather footage for a final sequence to their documentary, hope to complete it in time for entry into the Sundance Film Festival in September. It will be entered in other film festivals to get the widest possible exposure.

"There are places that really need the exposure of doing this, getting involved with the infrastructure and the safety aspect of travel," Macdonald said. "Every person, including those traveling into India and these other countries, has the right to be safe."

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Contact: christopher.casey@ucdenver.edu

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