THE WAITING ROOM (Pete Nicks, U.S.). 81 minutes. Friday (May 4), 7:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Saturday (May 5), 6:30 pm, Isabel Bader; Sunday (May 6), 9:15 pm, Royal. Rating: NNNN
In the tradition of Frederick Wiseman's Hospital, Pete Nicks takes a raft of cameras into the ER waiting room of Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, condensing the events of a single day into 81 harrowing minutes.
The Waiting Room offers no narration or commentary on these stories; it just watches as Highland's overtaxed staff deal with a constant stream of patients in distress. The emergency room handles some 250 patients a day, most of them uninsured - meaning that potentially controllable conditions haven't been addressed until they blow up into life-threatening situations, like a little girl's raging strep throat.
It's the rare documentary that mixes moment-to-moment intensity with sober social commentary. The Waiting Room will make an excellent teaching tool for your relatives who keep yammering on about privatizing medicine.