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Remote Area Medical

Cinedigm // Unrated // March 10, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted May 6, 2015 | E-mail the Author
In 1985, Stan Brock was living in Guyana, South America, when he was injured and needed medical assistance. Shortly thereafter, he learned that the closest medical help was 26 days away, on foot. As a result, Brock founded Remote Area Medical, a non-profit healthcare service designed to bring medical professionals to locations where such services are generally not available. Remote Area Medical is a mobile service, stopping in a location for a few days before moving onto another. One thing Brock didn't expect is that over time, RAM's services would become as necessary in the United States as they are in third world countries. The documentary Remote Area Medical focuses on the service's stop in the middle of the American heartland for a weekend, where a number of average folks line up in order to get the only treatment they can afford.

As a film, Remote Area Medical doesn't have much of a structure. It is a series of events, captures on film, and assembled into a loose narrative by the stories of certain people from the gathered crowd who are given the spotlight to share their experiences and the reasons as to why they need RAM's services. None of the people in the documentary, including Brock himself, are ever identified: co-directors Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman use anonymity to help reinforce the idea that we're all in it together, and how the spirit of community and cooperation are crucial to Brock's overall dream. Several of the interview subjects, including a redheaded woman searching for dental surgery, tell very personal stories about their lives and medical history, all while keeping them as just another face in a crowd of like-minded strangers. Reichert and Zaman also focus on the patients over the doctors; although there are a handful of interview clips with the professionals there to help, the filmmakers avoid wasting time patting them on the back for their charity.

The site for the film is Bristol, Tennessee, where the service's semi truck sets up on the NASCAR speedway during off-season. Outside, there is a bit of drama as a RAM member hands out tickets at 3:30am. On the first day, there are only 500 tickets, and several of the people who don't get tickets gather to petition the higher-ups for first spots in line the next day. Dental work is a major factor in the documentary, with multiple participants needing upwards of five teeth pulled (some of the footage is a bit gruesome). Despite the cringe-worthy procedures and the tension at seeing so many who need help waiting to get in, Remote Area Medical is a hopeful documentary, one that expresses concern about the state of healthcare in the United States while taking the time to bask in the relief that many feel upon having a cracked molar removed or a new pair of eyeglasses. Unsurprisingly, many are moved to tears.

It's hard not to watch a film like this, especially as a blue-state liberal, and think about the political divide in the US over healthcare. It's hard to imagine many of these folks are the kinds of people that one would be inclined to believe opposed socialized medicine thanks to outlets like Fox News. Yet, the movie is like an antidote to that kind of ideological warfare. In the same way that many of those folks may be suckered by the slant of Glenn Beck's version of news reporting, it's easy for progressives to then view those people as villains who are willingly absorbing misinformation and resolute in their ways. Remote Area Medical is a reminder of the down-home charm of middle America we'd like to believe in, where everyone is family and hospitality is everything. Much like one imagines Brock believed when founding Remote Area Medical, the film of the same name stresses the power of people coming together to help each other out, to give back to the community around them for the sake of the greater good. If that's not a testament to the filmmakers capturing a subject, I don't know what is.

Remote Area Medical arrives in a standard eco-friendly Amaray case, featuring a somewhat abstract image of the racetrack that doesn't clearly convey what it is the movie is about, but it uses clean fonts and looks nice enough.

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, Remote Area Medical has the "mixed bag" look and feel of most low-budget documentaries. Some aliasing and ghosting is visible in the footage, probably inherent to the source, along with the occasional blown-out sky or noisiness in the dark. The sound quality is often affected by the environment, with the exception of the movie's few arranged one-on-one interview segments. English closed captioning is available on the disc.

The Extras
Two short films are the primary extras, although one of them is a bit of a cop-out. The first is "Kombit" (6:47), a brief exploration of a community farming project by the same name in Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The other is "RAM" (3:36), which is actually a super-condensed version of the movie everyone with the DVD has presumably already watched, consisting of footage from the full feature. The only other extra is a chunk of deleted scenes (11:23), which are very much like the feature, although the longest takes a look at a little church on-site.

An original theatrical trailer for Remote Area Medical is also included.

Remote Area Medical isn't the most focused or informative documentary, but it captures a sense of selflessness and compassion that few movies are able to. Recommended.

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