Health Care in America: Reichert and Zaman’s Remote Area Medical at Hot Docs

Reviewed in this essay: Remote Area Medical, directed by Jeff Reichert & Farihah Zaman, 2013, United States

If there’s a single, insurmountable psychic obstacle to a Canadian’s long-standing fantasy of one day moving to New York it is this one: health care. No other facet of American life (save sometimes guns and prisons) makes the idea of actually renouncing a Canadian address for a US one more impossible and unappealing than that nation’s lack of single-payer health care. Perhaps one insight, then, of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s documentary Remote Area Medical is that this perspective is not lost on the poorest of Americans, who understand all too well the myriad indignities and contradictions of not having access to health care in the richest country in the world.

RAM006For nearly three days in April 2012 nearly 2000 Americans waited, in tents, cars, and on blankets in the parking lot of a massive NASCAR speedway in Bristol, Tennessee to receive free medical, dental and vision care. Founded to provide medical care to remote regions of the world, the organization Remote Area Medical set up its pop-up, no-cost health care clinic in this Appalachian community for less than a week under the sympathetic gaze and skilled camera work of the filmmakers, whose resulting portrait is a humanist indictment of poverty and an implicit criticism of the US health care system. Though tender and beautiful to look at, somewhat disconcerting is the film’s disinterest in probing some of the perhaps complicated but important subtextual themes, including the nature and limits of charity, power inequities between the RAM volunteers and the patients, and of course the very political fabric of poverty and illness from which the story of Remote Area Medical obtains its very sense of urgency.   

Remote Area Medical screens Sunday April 28 (9:30 PM) at The Royal Cinema, Tuesday, April 30 (11:00 AM) at the Isabel Bader Theatre and Saturday, May 4 (4:00 PM) at Scotiabank 3.

About the author

Brett Story

Brett Story is a writer, organizer, and independent documentary filmmaker based out of Toronto whose most recent film, Land of Destiny (2010), offers a portrait of a petrochemical town in crisis. She is currently working toward a PhD in geography at the University of Toronto, conducting a project about the relationship between prisons and cities.

By Brett Story