Remote Area Medical


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Remote Area Medical
"The more you know about medicine, the more shocking you will find this."

In 1985, English actor and naturalist Stan Brock set up a charity called Remote Area Medical with the idea of bringing medical services to people living in isolated parts of South and Central America. Over the years that followed, however, the charity was unable to spend as much time in those places as had been intended because it turned out to be needed so badly in the United States. This documentary shows one of its teams visiting an Appalachian community in its home state, delivering the kind of services that people in most developed countries take for granted but that have been completely out of reach for some of thee people for decades.

The more you know about medicine, the more shocking you will find this. People queue overnight in their cars to get treatment, some of them so ill that the cold conditions represent a serious risk. One man appears with blood pressure that one would expect to have killed him within minutes. Several people are almost completely blind just for want of glasses, which transform their lives. Some have spent years in pain with dental problems that take half an hour to fix. For others, of course, there are more distressing diagnoses, but at least they have the solace of being able to understand what's happening to them.

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There are many powerful personal stories here, but the element that hits hardest is the gratitude of those receiving treatment, and the staunchness with which they face their day to day suffering, despite the fact they live in a rich country which could easily afford to help them properly. Their lack of any expectation of care - beyond that offered by friends in what is obviously a tight knit community - is heartbreaking, as is the prejudice that keeps many of them from being able to help themselves. There aren't many jobs in the area, and losing a front tooth means losing any chance of getting anything public-facing. Others, meanwhile, struggle to work because they're disabled by problems that are easy for a doctor to resolve.

This documentary is very full on and really packs a lot into its running time. It can't afford to be squeamish any more than the medics can, so viewers will have to steel themselves for occasional gory scenes. For the most part, directors Reichert and Zaman take an observational approach, letting stories unfold by themselves. Short interviews, always with a lot going on in the background, allow some of those involved to provide potted histories, but for the most part we are very much in the present, moving around, caught up in the immediacy of it all. Demand is such that the medics will not be able to treat everybody; they can only do their best with the time and resources they have.

An immersive look at life at the sharp end, Remote Area Medical quietly asks what the American Dream looks like the morning after.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2014
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A documentary looking at a charity medical clinic on a three day visit to rural Tennessee.

Director: Jeff Reichert, Farihah Zaman

Year: 2013

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US


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