Why is universal healthcare considered radical, even un-American in some quarters? That’s not the subject of Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman’s quietly urgent, painfully of-the-moment “Remote Area Medical,” an observational documentary that leans into three days of the title organization’s encampment at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway. There’s no preaching here, only a selection of the amassing figures. Thousands of nearby citizens line up from the darkest hours of the morning to receive the most basic of medical and dental attention. “We don’t have jobs here, and the jobs that are available aren’t paying living wages,” we hear. Are we in a third-world country? (RAM began its activities aiding the dispossessed of other nations.) No, just the greater mid-South: America. The structuring of incident and character sneaks up on you: this is one of the most Altmanesque of large-cast nonfiction films, yet infused with a tenderness, a quiet dismay that Altman never cared for. There’s sobering weight to the images of the uninsured and the overtaxed medical workers alike. Horrors, and hope, coalesce in Reichert and Zaman’s deft, nonjudgmental, heartbreaking work. Calm fury: that’s “Remote Area Medical”‘s most radical move in the present moment. 80m. (Ray Pride)
“Remote Area Medical” opens Friday, January 9 at Facets. The trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.