Touro to screen acclaimed film on care at Bay Area hospital

By Donna Beth Weilenman, The Benicia Herald
Staff Reporter
February 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

Next week, Touro University will air “The Waiting Room,” the 2012 documentary that looks at health care at Oakland’s Highland Hospital, and the screening will help the university’s student-run free clinic, said Andrea Garcia, Touro director of external relations.

Dr. Gregg Lund, associate dean of academic affairs, said the movie’s director, Peter Nicks, and some members of the cast will be attending, and will participate in a panel discussion after the movie is shown.

“I go to Sundance every year,” Lund said. In addition to movies, the popular film festival in Park City, Utah, has panel discussions after movies are shown. “They’re very powerful,” he said, and give viewers more insight about how and why the movies were made.

He wanted the same thing at Touro’s presentation of “The Waiting Room,” and Nicks and several cast members agreed.

So those attending the screening at the Empress Theatre will have a chance to hear the filmmaker and others discuss “The Waiting Room,” with Lund as moderator.

“This film is bold and loud in how quiet it is,” Lund said. “The message is clear. It informs you about the local community and its hospital. He’s put a face on it.”

Nicks is a documentary filmmaker who won an Emmy Award for “Blame Somebody Else,” a documentary he co-produced with Jon Shenk for the PBS series “Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports.” Nicks is both the director and producer of “The Waiting Room.”

Nicks, a 1999 graduate of the University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, previously tackled such topics as immigration, journalism and technology. He was inspired to look at health care after his wife, Vanna, got a job at Highland Hospital shortly after the two completed graduate school.

But “The Waiting Room” took time and effort to develop, he said last week in a telephone interview with The Herald.

In 2007, Nicks and some colleagues made their first attempt. “That project dissolved,” he said. But the idea remained.

Nicks was determined to tell the story of health care policies and their impacts on patients and employees at the county hospital. “It’s been a long, winding road,” he said.

He blended voiceovers with cinema verité to tell the film’s stories, some raw, some personal and some uplifting, as patients, hospital staff and caregivers cope with illnesses, red tape and difficult decisions. It describes the care of 241 patients in 24 hours.

Completing a movie is just one phase of a filmmaker’s job. The next step is to get the film seen, so the stories can reach an audience.

Lund may have made Sundance, but after “The Waiting Room” was completed last year, it didn’t make the trip: That and other film festivals initially weren’t interested.

So Nicks began taking his movie in a different direction, getting a screening at True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Mo., a showcase for documentaries.

The reaction at True/False — “It was popular there,” Nicks said — finally led to a series of screenings at other festivals, including Full Frame near Raleigh, N.C., Hot Docs in Ashland, Ore., and the San Francisco International Film Festival.

The strategy worked, Nicks said. “The reviews are over the top. And the film gained momentum. People were saying, ‘Where did this film come from?’”

The film was awarded the Independent Spirit Award and was short-listed for the Oscars.

Now its showing schedule has picked up, and Nicks said his 2013 calendar “is crazy.” The latter half of the year is filling up with screening requests, he said.

He said he is hoping the buzz will lead to a theatrical release, though “hospitals and stories about hospitals can be a hard sell.”

However, his audiences are coming away with an array of emotions about the movie. “It’s a word-of-mouth film, and it’s inspiring,” he said. “It allows people a seat in the waiting room. If you don’t see yourself, you see your neighbor.”

One of the popular venues for the film has been medical schools, he said. “This film is going to be part of the canon,” he said. “It goes beyond health care issues.”

He said those involved in the medical field “have had a profound reaction to this film. It can remind us there’s a quiet need, and serious challenges to access.”

“The Waiting Room” looks at caregivers, the health care safety net and dignity for patients, he said.

“There are layers in this film,” he said. “Everyone deserves dignity.”

The viewing at the Empress is a fundraiser for the Vallejo clinic operated Touro University’s students, Garcia said, which is free to residents. Patients can go there for screenings and examinations, osteopathic manipulative medicine, health education, medication reviews, blood pressure checks and immunizations.

The clinic is open at 4:30 p.m. every Thursday at the Norman C. King Community Center, 545 Magazine St., Vallejo.

“We need to help this clinic, as it helps not only Vallejo, but neighboring communities,” Garcia said.

The college’s local campus is at 1310 Club Drive, Mare Island, Vallejo.

“The Waiting Room” will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo. Northbay Healthcare and Sutter Solano Medical Center are sponsoring the screening, Garcia said.

Tickets are $47.45, of which $20 is tax deductible, for the champagne reception that starts at 5:30 p.m. as well as the screening and panel discussion, and $13.50 for the screening and panel discussion.

Tickets may be bought from The Empress Theatre website.

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