Dr. Anthony Fauci in seated interview in his office at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (National Geographic for Disney+)

Fauci is a new National Geographic documentary by filmmakers John Hoffman and Janet Tobias. For many of us Dr. Anthonly Fauci (80) became a household name in 2020 with the start of the current Covid pandemic. What did Dr. Fauci say today? What vaccine does Dr. Fauci recommend? These were the questions we had on our mind while we lived through a confusing period of the pandemic in 2020. Some liked Dr. Fauci’s evidence-based, scientific approach to resolving the pandemic, while others pushed back and called him all sorts of names including Dr. Doom. But, who exactly is Dr. Fauci and what makes him tick? Where did he learn to be so laser focused on his research and ignore the nay-sayers and critics? How did he come to use the “Godfather” as a great book of philosophy and say, “There is nothing personal, it is all business.”

Fauci is a film told in two parts: AIDS and Covid, the two most important pandemics in the last 100 years. The story is told in Dr. Fauci’s words with inputs from his colleagues, AID activists and a couple of family members. After finishing his medical school at Cornell and his medical internship in 1968 he joined National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID, which is part of The National Institutes of Health (NIH).

After a cursory introduction to Dr. Fauci’s early life and how he met his wife Dr. Christine Grady at NIH, the film takes us into Act One of the doctor’s life story. In 1981 Dr. Fauci became involved with finding a vaccine for the AIDS epidemic. In the 1980s AIDS was the most frightening initials in America as one newscaster described it. Dr. Fauci faced a lot of criticism from AIDs activists for the way in which he and his colleagues were working on finding an effective solution. He was labelled as a murderer and an enemy by AIDS activists. Dr. Fauci says he realized that the AIDS activists wanted to be part of the process and help design the clinical trials. He helped forge an alliance between the AIDS activists, researchers and physicians and helped find a cocktail to treat AIDS patients. Today, many of the AIDs activists praise him for the way in which he and his team worked to find a solution for the AIDS epidemic. It was not just in the US that Dr. Fauci is praised for his work. Doctors and patients in Africa nations like Uganda recognize the contribution he made to their country. The credit for unleashing Dr. Fauci on Africa goes to President George Bush Jr. as they put it in the film.

After the AIDS epidemic, the next epidemic is Ebola, which was effectively handled by Dr. Fauci and his team during President Obama’s administration. So, the filmmakers don’t devote a whole lot of time on Ebola except to highlight how competently that pandemic was handled through public policy and creating awareness on how it spreads.

Act Two of Dr. Fauci’s life began with the Covid pandemic that unleashed in full force in 2020. We all had a ringside view of how the current pandemic unfolded and the way in which it was handled. At a personal level Dr. Fauci was witnessing a replay of Act One with all the criticisms, pushbacks and hostilities from various sections of the society. But, what makes Act Two different is the divisiveness and politicization says Dr. Fauci. He was undeterred by the criticisms and pushbacks, and instead he and his team focussed on finding a vaccine based on mRNA technology. They began their clinical trial of Covid vaccine in March 2020 just as the pandemic was picking up steam in the country. NIH had been working on mRNA technology for many years shares Dr. Fauci and in 2020 they gave the go-ahead to develop a mRNA vaccine for Covid. They developed a vaccine in record time and deployed it to the general population. Generally, vaccines take a few years to develop and then be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. To reassure the general public on the efficacy of the mRNA vaccine Dr. Fauci got his first Moderna vaccine shot live on TV in December 2020.

Fauci is a competent documentary that fills in gaps we may have about Dr. Fauci and his contributions in medicine. His life as he puts it is bookended by two great pandemics in the last 100 years: AIDS and Covid. But, there is a lot that happened between the two bookended events and that is what I was left wondering about.The film left me wanting to know more about his early life and who shaped and influenced his thinking at his Jesuit school in Brooklyn and later on at Cornell. What about his parents? His father owned a pharmacy, and it would be interesting to find out if that influenced his decision to become a doctor? What was their dinner table conversation at his parents home? Did they talk about prescriptions and ailments? Who were his mentors? How did his wife and children develop a system of supporting his workaholic way of life? Did his wife give up her professional life in order to take care of the family? Or, did his wife continue to work and learn to balance her work and family life? One imagines that Dr. Fauci’s relentless focus on his work was made possible by the support his wife and children gave him and that is a strand worth looking into. Maybe there is a Part-2 of Fauci that will answer or highlight these questions.

Running Time 1 hour 44 minutes

Fauci releases on Friday, September 10, 2021 in select theaters. The film will be available in the US on Disney channel from October 6, 2021 and worldwide on Disney channel from October 20, 2021.