The Waiting Room

The official trailer for “The Waiting Room,” a feature length documentary film exploring the daily struggle of patients and caregivers as they pass through the waiting room of Highland Hospital, a public hospital serving in Oakland, CA. It is a co-production between International Film Circuit, ITVS, Open’hood, and Peer Review Films.

“If we could choose one film to play in the White House screening room this year, it would be “The Waiting Room,” Peter Nicks’s magnificent documentary portrait of a hospital emergency room that eloquently portrays the faults and limitations of the American health care system, even as it punctures some of the most toxic stereotypes surrounding it.”

“This is human drama at its most intense and universal. This is the rare film that can change the way you think and see the world.”

“The Waiting Room introduces you to some remarkable characters and also makes some terrifying points about the use of emergency care as a substitute for — or a consequence of the lack of — proper primary care.

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The Waiting Room, the first project of our series, chronicles a day-in-the-life of Highland Hospital in Oakland, CA. It is a film and digital storytelling project that has made a profound impact on general audiences, media critics and the community of stakeholders working on behalf of the issue of access to health care. What set the project apart was an innovative digital storytelling initiative that enabled the filmmakers to build audience, engage the community and raise awareness long before the feature documentary was released. Our team began collecting stories from the waiting room by asking a simple question: #whatruwaitingfor? We collected hundreds of responses, organized them by theme and posted them online. This, simple non-polemic approach yielded small illuminating moments – some sad, some funny – that shed a very human light on what had become a very politically divisive issue. It also created a tool that enabled the filmmakers – as well as journalists, policy makers and stakeholders – to track over time the impact of a major public policy change on a community, something a film alone cannot do. This model had never been used so successfully by a documentary team and has since been adopted by many other filmmakers looking to engage their audience in innovative and sustainable ways. This focus on community engagement and innovative storytelling also had a powerful side effect: it directly influenced the observational, human-centered style of the film. This non-polemic, observational approach ultimately defined the film and served it well.

The Waiting Room was released in 2012 to critical acclaim, was named by the San Francisco Film Critics Circle as the best documentary of 2012, and ultimately shortlisted for an Academy Award®. It was released independently and buoyed into a limited theatrical release by a Kickstarter campaign supported by more than 800 backers. The Washington Post named The Waiting Room one of the “ten best films of 2012” behind Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, calling it “as poetic and universal as a modern day Grapes of Wrath.” The film was on several “Top Ten of 2012” lists and garnered numerous accolades including the Stella Artois Truer The Fiction filmmaking grant, Gotham IFP and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best documentary and a Cinema Eye nomination for best debut feature. The film was broadcast on public television in October of 2013 and received one of the highest ratings of the year. The film was produced under the auspices of Open’hood, Inc., a fledgling non-profit founded in 2009 with a vision to create a trilogy of films examining the interrelated issues most relevant to the people of Oakland and surrounding areas.