Many people grew up hearing the horrific media coverage of shaken baby syndrome; the term alone evokes a sense of fear that people abuse their children in such a manner. However, many innocent parents or guardians are wrongly accused of abusing their children due to head trauma caused by something they did not do. Meryl Goldsmith’s new documentary The Syndrome, which played last night at the Newport Beach Film Festival, is an exposé that shows that the concept of SBS is false and “outdated science” proven in a court of law, yet still has caused thousands of people to be convicted as homicidal killers. The trouble is that centers with specialized knowledge on the syndrome (and receive millions of dollars annually to conduct research) have a lot to lose if the world finds out how inaccurate their science truly is.
The film begins with repetitive news clips demonstrating just how much this is publicized. The most haunting images are those of the so-called experts violently shaking dummy babies, allegedly to show the effects it can have on the child, but it comes across as a twisted expression of anger. Early on it is made very clear that not all is right when it comes down to diagnosing this syndrome.
Not surprisingly, none of the opposing doctors agreed to participate in The Syndrome, but thankfully while the film has a clear message of what is not right, it never feels unreliably biased.
This controversial subject serves as a microcosm for other sensationalist media stories shown on news stations today. The trouble is just how many doctors back these accusations, even though many of their scientific claims are not based on a proper study. Because of how easy it became to villainize these people, science and actual facts are pushed out of the way.
Unlike other exposé documentaries, the filmmaker’s goal is not to change someone’s habits or lifestyles, but to encourage more critical thinking of experts who claim to have answers, and not be so quick to assume that what we see on the news is undisputed truth. Authority persuasion happens daily in the media, and often only in hindsight do we realize how false it may be. Not surprisingly, none of the opposing doctors agreed to participate in The Syndrome, but thankfully while the film has a clear message of what is not right, it never feels unreliably biased. By the time you’re done watching the film, you’ll have a deeper understanding of how scientific fact still leaves room for debate, and the horrifying realities of claims made not too long ago.
Like any great documentary, The Syndrome will leave audiences permanently informed on an issue that otherwise would not be coming to light.
The Syndrome screened last night at the Newport Beach Film Festival.