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AFI Docs Review: “Remote Area Medical”

Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman capture the people who flock to a NASCAR track in search of free health care.

Still of Remote Area Medical via AFI Docs.

Year after year, thousands ascend upon Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, hoping
to snag a ticket that will gain them access not to the next NASCAR race but to free
health care. They hope, sometimes in vain, while camping out in the freezing cold
for days, that this time around there will be enough dentists to treat everyone. Or
that a toddler can get a new pair of glasses so he can see the chalkboard at school.
Maybe his mom will be able to finally get that mammogram, too.

The story that
Remote Area Medical delivers—of the profound lack of affordable health care in the United States—isn’t
groundbreaking, but it’s one worth telling over and over again. Despite the passage
in 2010 of the Affordable Care Act, thousands of residents in remote areas of the
country still lack the access, money, and resources to attain simple medical procedures.
When the organization Remote Area Medical rolls its armada of volunteer doctors, nurses,
and dentists once a year to Bristol, it’s the residents’ only hope.

“We’ve had to cut back in places like Guatemala and Honduras because of the need here,”
says RAM founder
Stan Brock. “Welcome to America.”

Jeff Reichert and
Farihah Zaman bring raw emotion to
Remote Area Medical with their composite of interviews with downtrodden, often unemployed patients whose
ailments run the gamut. There’s the man who tells the camera he hasn’t kissed his
wife in a year; she suffers from degenerative gum disease. She hopes to receive dentures
after getting six infected teeth pulled, but walks away empty-handed. “Not enough
dentists,” she’s told.

There’s the other woman who smokes multiple packs a day and offers a crooked smile
when her doctor shows her the black spots on her lungs. If I have lung cancer, she
tells the camera, I’ll deal with it when it comes. She doesn’t have to say anything
for the viewer to know that next time RAM comes to town it’ll probably be too late.

Remote Area Medical is an important film that offers a sobering look at the current state of health care
in the US. While there are a few happy endings—the woman who gets a new pair of eyeglasses,
the older man who gets a new set of teeth—you’re left unconvinced. Sure, what the
organization does for the rural dwellers in America is commendable. But the true story
of the film is the thousands of well-meaning families down on their luck who’ve been
ignored and forgotten for far too long.

Playing June 21, 4 PM, at the Goethe-Institut, and June 22, 3 PM, at AFI Silver Theatre
and Cultural Center