In films, novels, or the pages of a history textbook, one might encounter the character commonly referred to as the “old country doctor,” a rural physician who makes due with the limited resources available to them. Take, for example, the opening of, “A Country Doctor,” a 1917 short story by Franz Kafka, “A seriously ill man was waiting for me in a village ten miles distant. A severe snowstorm filled the space between him and me… but the horse was missing—the horse. My own horse had died the previous night, as a result of over exertion in this icy winter.”
Though we no longer rely on steeds for transport and often turn to WebMD for petty relief, the challenges of the country doctor still exist. That is the subject of The Providers (2018), a documentary directed, written, and produced by Laura Green and Anna Moot-Levin, and the winner of The Hernandez/Bayliss Prize for the Triumph of the Human Spirit at MNFF4.
The Providers follows three healthcare practitioners in northern New Mexico as they provide care for those who would “otherwise be left out of the healthcare system.” One of the film’s goals is to highlight the shortage of physicians and the effects of the opioid epidemic in rural America. MNFF’s Will DiGravio caught up with Moot-Levin to talk about the film and what her team has been up to since screening in Middlebury.
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WD: The Providers is a call to action, for political change. Do you consider yourselves activists?
AML: We see ourselves first and foremost as storytellers. We set out to share a story that people could really connect with, a story that hadn’t been told before. As we began making our film, we were surprised that no one had made a film about today’s country doctor. We wanted to tell that story. At the same time, after spending so much time with the people in the communities, it became important to us that the film also make a difference. Over the course of making the film, we came up with two central goals: increasing the rural healthcare workforce and highlighting the importance of treating substance use as a disorder.
Have you screened the film in places other than the festival circuit to reach a wider audience?
We are working on a number of screenings for policymakers, including in New Mexico. A lot happens at the state level of government, and we think that is an effective place to target policymakers. Last Fall, we screened the film at a meeting of the Rural Committee of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. We are interested in working with policymakers and influencing policy, but, as you can imagine, bureaucracy is often a barrier.
The filmed screened on PBS’s Independent Lens to 2.5 million viewers in April. We have also screened the film at medical school programs, high schools, and at several regional and national conferences.
Is there a moment in the film that particularly sticks with you?
There is a scene in which Chris, a nurse practitioner, is with his patient Cheri and her 12-year-old son. They are in their trailer and the 12-year-old talks about being his mother’s caretaker as she struggles with alcoholism. For me, one of the strongest themes we saw while making the film was the intergenerational cycle of trauma and substance use, and how poverty and other elements are intertwined. The healthcare providers we follow try to be the point of intervention in this cycle of trauma and addiction, but the trauma is deep within these communities. A lot of people see substance abuse and opioid use, but I think the issue is trauma and that is such a powerful scene because earlier you are told that Cheri’s own mother was an alcoholic who comes to visit and drink, thus making it difficult for her to stay sober. You can see so clearly how it get transmitted from generation to generation.
What are three films that influenced the creation of The Providers?
The Waiting Room (2012), The Overnighters (2014), Gideon’s Army (2013)
For those who enjoyed The Providers and want to watch something similar, what would you recommend?
Capturing the Flag (2018), True Conviction (2017), The Bad Kids (2016)