They’ve got thermometers now, I guess you’re old fashioned.

Theatrical Release Date: 09/26/2012 (New York)
Director: Peter Nicks
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA (language and some graphic medical-related images)
Runtime: 1 hour, 21 minutes


Something tells me I want to stay on her good side.

Universal Health Care has been a hot political topic for years and no matter how good the intentions, there is a large segment of the population without the means to afford regular and consistent health care. The end result are emergency rooms overflowing with patients and director Peter Nicks has crafted a documentary taking a snapshot of one of them.

Filmed at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, Nicks compiled five months of footage and created a representation of what one day looks like (it’s not an actual 24 hour period but audiences will get the gist of it). We get to hear the stories of patients as they all deal with the frustration of waiting to be treated and we hear from the hospital staff as they do everything they can to keep wading through an excess of sick people, juggling beds and rooms like an elaborate puzzle.

The only voice-over work comes from the people being filmed, which was definitely the right way to go here. This reduced the unavoidable bias all documentaries share to some degree, as the perspective of the director and editors is transmitted to the audience. Short of placing a stationary camera on a ledge and watching the footage, any film that has to make choices about what scenes to use and what characters to highlight emits some form of message.

In this case, it’s clear that the health care system is overtaxed and just at Highland Hospital’s ER, hundreds of people come every day – for everything from running out of medicine to infections to gunshot wounds. What comes through loud and clear is the dedication and hard work of the staff. The doctors, nurses, and admin staff show a remarkably personal touch to their caregiving, even when patients inevitably lose their patience (sorry, that pun had to happen at some point).

I’m not quite sure what this means but some of the hardest elements to watch weren’t medically related but financial. Seeing people struggling to makes ends meet, going to the ER to seek care because they have no coverage, and then hoping to meet an income level which would only mean a 60% reduction in their bill was heartbreaking at times. With the financial issues this country has seen lately, these scenes come as no surprise but they hit hard nonetheless.

The film opened in 2012 and was up for a few Best Documentary awards. After finally getting a chance to watch it myself, I can see why. Unfortunately this wasn’t presented as part of the awards push to the San Diego Film Critics Society as it very well could have made our nominations list (it would have made mine). It’s drifting around the country right now and my guess would be that it hits the home market in the near future. Either way you can catch it, the cinema verité style make it a fascinating watch. The stories are personal and relatable, especially if you’ve ever had the unfortunate opportunity to bring a loved one to the ER.

It’s a shame this hasn’t received too much attention to this point but anyone who finds the premise interesting should make the effort to go see it. It’s well-crafted, simply by doing as much as it could not to shape it and instead focus on providing each story with as much of an arc as possible. Although the slice of life idea is nothing new, the drama of the setting make it compelling and worth your time and money.

4 out of 5