THE WAITING ROOM (Peter Nicks). 81 minutes. Opens Friday (January 18) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. See listing. Rating: NNNN
In the tradition of Frederick Wiseman's Hospital, Peter 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 the stories that unfold; it just watches as Highland's overtaxed staff deal with a constant stream of patients in distress. The emergency room attracts some 250 patients a day, most of them uninsured - meaning that potentially controllable conditions haven't been addressed until they've blown 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. And it'll make an excellent teaching tool for your relatives who keep yammering on about privatizing medicine.