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The Waiting Room is a character-driven documentary film that uses extraordinary access to go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. The film - using a blend of cinema verité and characters' voice over - offers a raw, intimate, and even uplifting look at how patients, executive staff and caregivers each cope with disease, bureaucracy and hard choices. It is a film about fighting for survival when the odds are stacked against you. Written by
What director Peter Nicks captures in The Waiting Room is the truly bare side of real humans with nowhere else to go. The cinema verité style documentary gives the viewer a brief glimpse into the lives and problems of people who find themselves in the ER at an Oakland public hospital in a 24 hour period. What sets this film apart from the other "Sickos" out there is Nicks' refusal to comment on the situation, stripping away the all too subjective narration, info- graphics, and expert commentary, leaving a story as near to objective as one may see. Instead, Nicks requires the viewer to experience the range of emotions that each patient or staff member encounters, and allows them to chose which of these emotions to reflect back on the film. Just as easily as desperation and optimism can encounter a man with $80.00 in his pocket, forced out of work by chronic bone spurs, can a viewer encounter anger and compassion, both at the people and the system which they are caught in.
Without a narrator telling the viewer how to see a situation or a person, the events in this film can be entirely polarizing for the viewer. It's easy to see the story of Eric Morgan, who needs surgery to remove a testicular tumor and gets lost in the shuffle of private vs. public health care without insurance, and get angry at a system that has forced him to a public ER with thousands of dollars in medical bills. But, it's not so easy view the chronic substance abusing patient who is taking up a desperately needed hospital bed to recover overnight from a bender, and feel compassion for a man caught in an entirely different broken system.
The debate caused by The Waiting Room becomes increasingly more polarized when we add in the feelings and opinions of an international audience viewing this film. As a Canadian, some of the scenes feel as if the patients in a third world ER were slammed in to a space-age medical facility, with the tools and resources to fix everyone, but everything must remain at a stand still until money is exchanged by the hands of grey haired business men elsewhere.
Many American reviews feel that this film incites a need to fix a broken American health care system, but from abroad that view seems much too shallow. The people and stories captured by Nicks are the problems of a much larger system which forces its people to rely on Google and God instead of Science and State for help, exasperating the system even further and hog-tying those with skills and desire to help with red tape.
However cruel the system may be, what Is left at the end of the ER shift, is an inordinate amount of compassion and kindness possessed by both the staff and patients in the waiting room at the Highlands Hospital in Oakland. As infuriating as it may be, the people in The Waiting Room still inspire optimism in the viewer and in each other. What Nicks allows is for the audience to discover the goodness that remains in people even when they find themselves at the bottom of the barrel.
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