If Iraqumentaries dominated the nonfiction form half a decade ago, and the global economic crisis has been the de rigueur topic of late, a new subject is currently coming into favor: the state of America’s healthcare system. This month alone, three documentaries are being released that touch on the dire state of the medical industry and Americans’ not-so-well-being, as I report in this week's Docutopia column: Bobby Sheehan’s Doctored, which opened in New York last week, Peter Nicks’s The Waiting Room, which opens today, and Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman’s Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, which hits theaters next weekend.
While my article focuses mostly on the content of the films, I wanted to take this space to momentarily comment on the rash of topical docs this election season, none of which will likely bask in the rightwing-driven economic glory of "2016: Obama's America."
Certainly, I'd like to think, as I wrote, that there's "a potential power in the sheer number of docs advocating for change" to do something about America's dysfunctional profit-driven “disease-care” system, which over-prescribes drugs, traffics in patients like cattle, and eschews alternative and other means of preventive medicine in favor of a more costly system that, as one cynical medical professional says, “doesn’t want you to die and doesn’t want you to get better."
But I also think all these social-issue documentaries that are currently playing in theaters may be, in some ways, cannabilizing each others' audience. Conservatives, after all, have only one documentary to see this season, but liberals have a dozen: Joining "Detropia," "Girl Model," "How to Survive a Plague" and several others already in release, there's "The House I Live In" and "The Revisionaries" coming up in the next few weeks.
And that's not to say that "The Waiting Room" and "Escape Fire" are partisan–in fact, what makes these documentaries strong, particularly "The Waiting Room," is that it's unbiased. But I have the feeling they are being marketed to the "Food, Inc." audience, who already seem to be bogged down with a number of worthy nonfiction movies to see.
What's the alternative? Maybe there isn't one. Or maybe attempts to peg issue-oriented films to election season isn't something that works for the party that's in power. As the successful releases of "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "2016: Obama's America" prove, it's the irate and frustrated body politic that really drives ticket sales.