The Waiting Room

In America’s current health care system, public hospital emergency rooms are more than the adrenaline-jolting trauma centers of E.R. They function as a last resort for the uninsured, providing services that would otherwise be handled by primary care physicians. Director Peter Nicks spent five months in an Oakland, California emergency room and distilled that footage into a precise day in the life documentary. Staff members of Highland Hospital (where Nicks’ wife works as a speech pathologist) are uniformly compassionate and resourceful, handling a steady stream of overflow crowds. While emphasizing the calm coordination of hospital administration, Nicks follows a handful of patients, including the newly unemployed, working poor, and indigent, through the frustrating and worrisome process of receiving treatment (and arranging payment). The Waiting Room is beautifully filmed and masterfully edited, but feels too careful and polished to have the emotional impact of activist filmmaking. Nicks demonstrates how much individual attention affects medical care, while muting patients’ rage at a bureaucracy that diminishes their humanity.

Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 28, 2012 by International Film Circuit.
Originally appeared in Indiewire.