The Waiting Room Review (Kirk Haviland)

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The Waiting Room

Directed by Peter Nicks

Today (Friday, Jan 18), the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema begins an exclusive run of another of its 2012 festival favorites, The Waiting Room. When the shortlist of documentaries up for nomination for this year’s Academy Awards was released back in early December, director Peter Nicks found his film among the contenders. And even though it did not make the cut the film was in the mix for a reason, the day in the life of a U.S. hospital is an impactful and insightful piece of film making.

The Waiting Room is a riveting day in the life of an Oakland, California, public hospital’s overtaxed emergency room.  The purely observational character-driven documentary expertly weaves the stories of several patients, most of them are uninsured, and who come to the inner-city facility because they have nowhere else to go. Director Nicks is afforded extraordinary access to patients and caregivers that allows him to paint a vivid picture of the decaying state of America’s health care system, something most Canadians know little about. A ballsy nurse, an anxious father, a drugged out serial patient and a small group of other memorable characters are engaging and draw you in with their stories as the system may be the only real ‘bad guy’ in these circumstances. The narrative is driven by the interactions as there is little structuring and interpretations beyond just that.

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The film is filled with static shots of patients anxiously waiting interspersed with time lapse photography to emphasize the ebb and flow of the waiting room, while conversely showing that many people never move as they wait hours for a little help. The one sequence that may be the most powerful is when the camera is an observer in a room as a patient flatlines. There is no swelling score like in ‘ER’ or ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, just the sound of machines, shuffling doctors and nurses and the sullen look of desperate onlookers unable to help as the patient slowly slips away. What’s left is a body covered in a sheet, as a toe tag is applied and a pile of red stained bandages sit in a pool of blood on the floor, a grim reminder that an emergency room is also a place of death as well as life.

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The most fascinating aspect of Waiting Room for Canadians is likely the checkout procedure when patients have to decide how they will settle their accounts. For most in this documentary, those without insurance, this practice is similar to asking a bank for money or taking out a loan on a new vehicle. Patients try to barter and plead their way to discounts and reduced fees as the duty nurses discuss payment plans and other options. The line of cubicles devoted to this task as patients leave is a startling reminder to those Canadians who may complain about the system north of the border, this is much, much worse than you’ll ever see up here.

Highland Hospital

Director Nicks’ first feature film is a winner. His low rent, almost guerrilla style of documenting that allows the people and the camera to do the narrative work gives the final result a little more grit and energy than forcing a voiceover or narrative would have allowed. By using very minimal voice over and what is used is only from the people involved, there is no narration here, the flow and concept of the film stays focused and engaging. The Waiting Room is a recommend.

For more info show times visit the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema Online Schedule.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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