Another good title for Beyond the Call would be The Santa Claus 3, if only it didn't sound too similar to a very different movie scheduled for release later this year. Nonetheless, Beyond the Call is a perfeclty fine name for Adrian Belic's extraordinary documentary about three old men -- occasionally with white beards -- traveling the world with presents. Unlike Santa, they don't travel just once a year and they don't cover all of the earth in one mission. Also, instead of toys, they give out food, medical supplies, clothing and blankets. Sometimes, though, they bring something like a solar-powered oven, which certainly looks like a big toy.
Meet Ed Artis, Jim Laws and Walt Ratterman, aka Knightsbridge, a three-man humanitarian organization that provides aid to needy people, one impoverished country at a time. In the Tribeca Film Festival guide, the film's synopsis describes them as "part Mother Teresa and part Indiana Jones," which earned a few rolled eyes from the Cinematical staff at first. Well, wouldn't you know their interpretation is spot-on? Sure, they don't recover artifacts or fight Nazis, but their role is just as much adventurous as it is altruistic. One of the big questions that went through my head first was, "Where does the money come from?" Some of the materials are donated, and the guys receive an 80-90% discount on medical supplies, but the expense of each trip appears to be high; at one point they pay for truckloads of food out of a pouch filled with wads of $100-bills. Later they hand $2,000 cash to an Afghan school that can't pay its teachers. The documentary isn't completely clear about how this cardiologist, construction company owner, and retired mortgage banker can work so rarely at home and devote so much time and money abroad, except to point out that while others are saving up for a boat or for retirement, they save up for the next mission. It is probably that simple, and of course, it doesn't really matter how they're able to do it -- they do it.
Beyond the Call shows them doing it throughout Afghanistan, where they planned to go even before 9/11; in the southern Philippines, where they help the U.S. military acquire medical equiptment for cheap; it shows them trying to do it on the Burmese border of Thailand. They claim to have no fear of death, because, as Artis puts it, a spreadsheet of his life comes out far more positive than negative. Artis admits one fear, however: being kidnapped; the idea of someone telling his wife, "We've got him," is the worst-case scenario he can think of. Although Knightsbridge travels through a lot of dangerous territory, Belic doesn't capture anything too intense (see Shadow of Afghanistan for that kind of film), which is okay. It is hard enough viewing the people already affected by war and poverty.
Beyond the Call is an extremely inspiring film that is also hilarious, exciting and heartwrenching. Not only are the three men unbelievably good willed, they are enjoyable characters filled with loveable quirks and wonderful stories to tell. I'd say someone should give them a reality show -- the film will leave you craving more -- except I respect that this is probably all the attention they could want or need.