The doctors who step in to aid America's uninsured star in this by-the-book doc.
Remote Area Medical
Jeff Reichert and Frihah Zaman’s new documentary Remote Area Medical is an uncompromising portrayal of the organization of the same name’s “pop-up” medical clinics. More specifically, one of these clinics held over the course of three summer days on Bristol, Tennessee’s NASCAR speedway. The Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps is a non-profit, volunteer medical relief corps founded on the principal of bringing doctors and medicine to remote areas of the world; however, after initially focusing their efforts on Third World countries, the group felt they were needed more urgently domestically. Now, more than 60% of their work is done in the U.S. While RAM has held several of their clinics outside of Tennessee, the state is the only one within the country that has an “Open Borders to Doctors” rule, which allows RAM to more easily recruit help for their cause.
The necessity of these clinics is felt from the get-go in Remote Area Medical, as locals begin gathering in the parking lot outside the Bristol Speedway nearly a day before the clinic is set to open. Interviews with the soon-to-be patients reveal a variety of maladies, many of which stem from inability to access medical care. Some people reveal they hadn’t been to see a doctor for 40 years or more. Dentists, in particular, seem neglected by those who have the least access to medical treatment, and thus dentists are in great demand from the Remote Area Medical team.
The filmmakers present this community’s conflicts without dressing up the issues, refraining from heavy-handed voiceovers or a slew of graphic overlays, save for some short, expository text that kicks off the movie. Interviews with the Tennesseans capture them at their most vulnerable moments; however, the documentary skews an exploitative approach for a more honest one. The film doesn’t shy away from showing its subjects teary-eyed and overwhelmed by the moment, but likewise it rarely moves in for the close up. As a result, the feeling is one of a casual observer toward a major problem.
One intriguing moment mostly looked over by the doc comes when a woman with children seeking medical care gets frustrated when she doesn’t receive one of a few hundred tickets to enter the facility on the first night. Despite her protests and understandable concerns, no one’s able to tend to her and when she attempts to communicate with the head of RAM Stan Brock, he walks away without a word. In these moments, Remote Area Medical’s minimalist tendency prevents the film from fully exploring many of the aspects touched on during the course of the film. Brock’s elusive nature is one of the compelling themes underlying the movie, but Remote Area Medical shuns most tangential elements in favor of its singular focus.
This becomes an exception for one late-introduced subject, a man who self-medicates with illegal drugs following his RAM procedures. It’s the rare instance where the film ventures outside the lines to create a more detailed picture of the circumstances that have lead to the need for Remote Area Medical. While the main thrust of the film remains captivating despite the lack of color around the edges, it’s occasionally hard to ignore the parts that might have been. Largely, the documentary does an admirable job of painting an unbiased, stark picture of a modern medical crisis.