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SFIFF Review: Peter Nicks' Doc 'The Waiting Room'

Thompson on Hollywood By David D'Arcy | Thompson on Hollywood April 22, 2012 at 1:41PM

"The Waiting Room" is edited to give the range of emotions observed and experienced in that space, and that range is vast. This is documentary as distilled observation. It’s also as strong an argument for universal health care that I’ve seen in years.
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The Waiting Room Poster

The Waiting Room (Dir. Peter Nicks, USA, 2012, 80 min.)

At Highland Hospital in Oakland, it’s another normal day. Sick people line up in the emergency room to wait until a doctor can see them. That usually takes all day. What we see is a flow of humanity that’s at the bottom end of the 99 per cent. This is a last resort, but it’s their only way into health care – all ages, all races, all ailments, almost all dead broke.

You would not want to be on their end of the equation. Opponents of the Obama plan would say that reform would bring this country to a system of rationing. When you see "The Waiting Room," you are made aware that rationing is already at work, whether the illness is cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, drunkenness, or kidney disease. You see people who don’t have money paying in another currency, time.

Bay Area filmmaker Peter Nicks gives you what looks like a Fred Wiseman movie, using the kind of raw material and a cinematographic precision that you would expect from a television show like "E.R." It’s more distilled than Wiseman – shorter – but the pageantry, if you can call it that, is no less complex – hardworking employees under huge pressure who’ve seen it all, impatient sick people, an infusion of the suffering who have been laid off from their jobs, and lots of fear.   

"The Waiting Room" is edited to give the range of emotions observed and experienced in that space, and that range is vast. You feel as if you’ve been there for a day after 80 minutes, and you’re thankful that you’ve been watching a movie. Patients who have nowhere to go after treatment are kept in beds until someplace is found, and the waiting gets longer. This is documentary as distilled observation. It’s also as strong an argument for universal health care that I’ve seen in years. Funded partly by ITVS, it should end up on Public Television, if PBS is till there.

This article is related to: Festivals, Festivals, Documentary, Documentaries, San Francisco International Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.