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the temp­ta­tion to im­bue its clipped state­ments with any ex­is­ten­tial or overly sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance. For this we can be grate­ful.

Though, de­spite the mod­esty of their ap­proach, I was re­minded of some­thing Pa­trick White wrote in Voss. ‘‘ Ev­ery man has a ge­nius, though it is not al­ways dis­cov­er­able,’’ he said. ‘‘ But in this dis­turb­ing coun­try . . . it is pos­si­ble more eas­ily to dis­card the inessen­tial and to at­tempt the in­fi­nite.’’ VAC­CI­NA­TION is a re­mark­able but of­ten in­vis­i­ble gift; there are so many sto­ries of so many of us who are alive and un­touched by dis­ease that are rarely told. What are be­ing told, though, are sto­ries about re­ac­tions to vac­ci­na­tion, and the de­bate has be­come heated and of­ten ac­ri­mo­nious, most re­cently with ru­mours about the safety of the new menin­gi­tis jab. The more es­tab­lished vac­ci­na­tions are also com­ing in for heavy crit­i­cism. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vac­cine came un­der fire af­ter re­ports sug­gested it might be linked to autism and the bowel dis­or­der Crohn’s dis­ease — re­ports since dis­cred­ited in fur­ther stud­ies.

As new SBS-com­mis­sioned fea­ture-length doco Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vac­cines points out so dra­mat­i­cally, on the one side are anx­ious par­ents who don’t want to vac­ci­nate their ba­bies be­cause they see a risk of per­ma­nent dam­age; on the other side are the doc­tors who warn of an epi­demic if par­ents shun the shots.

What is not in doubt is that there are new dangers as dis­eases largely un­seen for gen­er­a­tions are re­turn­ing. There is a se­ri­ous dan­ger that if lev­els of im­mu­ni­sa­tion con­tinue to fall we will see a resur­gence of epi­demics.

Yet as Rachael Blake, who qui­etly and gravely nar­rates Jabbed, tells us there are also cases of vac­cine reaction that se­verely dam­age lives and an in­creas­ingly frag­ile pub­lic trust. How do we de­cide to vac­ci­nate or not? And what, in­deed, are the real risks? And what fu­els a grow­ing trend of vac­cine hes­i­tancy across the world?

Di­rected by Sonya Pem­ber­ton, Jabbed is of­ten heart­break­ing, a com­pelling story of love, hope and fear, be­gin­ning with her in­ti­mate ac­cess to a small child suf­fer­ing whoop­ing cough in a Melbourne hos­pi­tal. Never swayed by emo­tion, even if touched and oc­ca­sion­ally hum­bled by it, she man­ages to re­late a host of com­plex is­sues to ev­ery­day ex­pe­ri­ence.

It wasn’t easy. ‘‘ I drowned in sto­ries and, to be hon­est, I cried a great deal,’’ Pem­ber­ton says of the 21/ years she spent mak­ing Jabbed. ‘‘ There were times I wanted to give up, but I set my­self the task to fol­low the science.’’

Jabbed was made by Genepool Pro­duc­tions, a new joint ven­ture be­tween Pem­ber­ton Films and Cordell Jig­saw Zapruder. It’s Aus­tralia’s first TV pro­duc­tion com­pany fo­cus­ing on qual­ity science pro­gram­ming. And Mel­bournebased Pem­ber­ton is one of TV’s great sto­ry­tellers, one of our lead­ing doc­u­men­tary writ­ers, di­rec­tors and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers. She’s one of those TV film­mak­ers whose cul­tural con­tri­bu­tion is awe­some re­mains lit­tle known to the pub­lic.

Pem­ber­ton has writ­ten and di­rected more than 40 hours of TV, spe­cial­is­ing in science doc­u­men­taries for an in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. Her films have won more than 30 awards and she has been hon­oured with the pres­ti­gious Eureka Prize for science jour­nal­ism three times.

Last year she won an Emmy for De­cod­ing Im­mor­tal­ity, which ex­plained the work of No­bel prize-win­ning Aus­tralian sci­en­tist El­iz­a­beth Black­burn on the so-called im­mor­tal­is­ing en­zyme, which is be­ing used to mea­sure and in some cases slow down our bi­o­log­i­cal, molec­u­lar clock. Pem­ber­ton likes to think of her­self as ‘‘ a trans­la­tor of science’’, drilling down into seem­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble ideas and re­search when there’s so much de­nial­ism, scep­ti­cism, fear and trep­i­da­tion about science.

But she’s a film­maker, too, and no one ap­pre­ci­ates more read­ily than she does that TV tends to be pro­mis­cu­ous and de­mand­ing.

It has a short con­cen­tra­tion span, flirt­ing with ideas, then abruptly dump­ing them. What ap­pears on the screen must grab our at­ten­tion and not let it flit away, and Pem­ber­ton strad­dles the cat­e­gories of art and jour­nal­ism, en­ter­tain­ment and knowl­edge with her gamechang­ing films.

While I haven’t seen De­cod­ing Im­moral­ity, I was struck by Catch­ing Can­cer (2009), a film about the way thought-pro­vok­ing science has be­gun to un­ravel the fac­tors that rig the lethal odds of the can­cer lot­tery. She re­vealed how sci­en­tists were of­fer­ing hope in the form of vac­cines, an­tibi­otics and im­proved hy­giene. It’s a con­tentious idea — that some­times viruses can cause can­cer — and not ev­ery­one agrees, but Pem­ber­ton made a cred­i­ble claim and pro­duced some riv­et­ing tele­vi­sion. Which she does here.

Jabbed is a pro­ject that is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to her. ‘‘ My mo­ti­va­tion is sim­ple. I am sad­dened and wor­ried by the deep con­cerns, the ridicule and the po­lar­i­sa­tion around vac­cines,’’ she says, per­turbed by the end­less ‘‘ us’’ v ‘‘ them’’ con­ver­sa­tions that seem to lead nowhere.

‘‘ I want us to talk to, and lis­ten to one an­other. I want us to broaden our views through science and emo­tion, through logic and the heart.’’

Track­ing across the globe in her new film, Pem­ber­ton ex­plores the rea­sons for com­pla­cency and the fear of vac­ci­na­tion, while rig­or­ously ex­am­in­ing the cost of de­lay­ing or re­fus­ing the jab. She in­ves­ti­gates those heart­break­ing cases and re­veals the lat­est science be­hind such life and death tales, and el­e­gantly, through some witty an­i­ma­tion from de­signer Dom Bar­tolo, places them in a sta­tis­ti­cal and his­tor­i­cal con­text.

‘‘ Ei­ther way I looked at it, so many vac­cine sto­ries were about loss — peo­ple dev­as­tated by vac­cine-pre­ventable dis­ease or those rare but equally fright­en­ing [if of­ten un­ver­i­fi­able] sto­ries of vac­cine re­ac­tions,’’ she says. ‘‘ My chal­lenge was how to make sense of th­ese and how to find the lighter mo­ments to carry us through.’’

She had sev­eral peo­ple on her doc­u­men­tary team who chose not to vac­ci­nate their fam­i­lies, she says, some­thing she found con­fronting, as Pem­ber­ton is a sup­porter of vac­cines. She chose to work along­side them, even as they dif­fered so pro­foundly in their views. ‘‘ And through them, and many oth­ers, I learned to re­ally hear an­other point of view and al­though we did not agree, I learned to un­der­stand an­other di­alect.’’ To­gether, she says, they found a mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful voice. And to­gether they have made a star­tling, mov­ing, lay­ered and sur­pris­ing film.

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