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This Time, Feds Are Heroes on the Big Screen

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Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh's latest film, Contagion, opened recently to rave reviews and even placed second in box office earnings over the past weekend. The film follows the response to a mysterious pandemic as it rapidly spreads across the United States.

While the movie references recent federal emergency failures like Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 flu scare, federal scientists and bureaucrats are the heroes of the film. The Homeland Security Department (including the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Defense Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all are featured significantly in the film. Instead of private industry, the aforementioned agencies -- CDC in particular -- do the research and development to defeat the disease. Indeed, by using one of main antagonists of the film as a journalist (Jude Law) trying to sell his own false homeopathic cure to the pandemic, Soderbergh paints the absolute free market approach in a less-than-flattering light.

Much of the film's drama centers around the hard work and devotion to service taken by Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle). Mears, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service official, travels around the country briefing state and local authorities, as well as helping coordinate quarantines and response. Hextall, a CDC research scientist, is the scientist featured most prominently in the film and is a major heroine in her efforts to develop a vaccine.

Without giving away any major plot points, the film features devoted federal scientists fighting against a hysterically unnerved public, complicated interagency logistics and a mysterious illness. In the current political climate, it isn't often that popular culture lauds the feds as much as Contagion does.

Prior to joining Government Executive’s staff, Ross Gianfortune worked at The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, WXRT Radio and The Columbia Missourian. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Missouri and a master's in communications from the American University.

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