Code Black (Long Shot Factory, NR)

film Code-Black_smViews of how care is delivered in a busy public ER are among the most engaging in the film.


film Code-Black 

Emergency medicine as a specialty was developed at Los Angeles County General Hospital in the famously cramped C-Booth, so the hospital provides an ideal setting for Code Black, a documentary exploring the real world of the emergency department from the physician’s point of view. Even better, in 2008 the emergency department moved to a new facility, providing director Ryan McGarry with the opportunity to compare working conditions before and after the change.

McGarry, a physician who trained at the hospital, obtained extraordinary access to the emergency department and its patients (whose faces are seldom seen), and these views of how care is delivered in a busy public ER are among the most engaging in this film.

McGarry also convinced many of his fellow physicians to provide direct-to-camera interviews. These interviews, plus occasional action-style footage (helicopters, ambulances) are skillfully edited together with footage of care being provided in the ER by Joshua Altman (whose other credits include The Tillman Story and We Live in Public) into a film that is most satisfying when concentrating on the here and now—this patient needs this procedure now—and works less well when it tries to take on bigger issues.

It’s no secret that the American health care system often provides less than ideal care at a very high price, with problems ranging from the amount of time the physicians must spend doing paperwork to the fact that many Americans still use the ER as their primary source of medical care. However, practicing physicians (especially those still in training) are not necessarily the individuals best prepared to address those issues, let alone come up with solutions, and McGarry’s attempts to address them feel halfhearted at best.

McGarry frequently appears on camera himself and also narrates some of the film. It’s not a bad choice—he’s engaging and photogenic, as are the other physicians who appear in interviews—and it helps to underscore the fact that this film is about physicians, not patients or the health care system as a whole. For that reason, Code Black will be of particular interest to those contemplating a career in medicine, because the young physicians spend a fair amount of time discussing their motivations for choosing medicine, and emergency medicine in particular, as their career. In addition, Code Black offers what seems to be a fairly realistic view of what working in a big-city, public hospital ER is really like. | Sarah Boslaugh

Code Black will be screened as part of the Webster University Film Series, Sept. 4, 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Winifred Moore Auditorium (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, Mo. 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public; $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools; $4 for Webster staff and faculty; and free for Webster students with proper I.D. Tickets are available from the cashier before each screening; to learn about other options, contact the Film Series office 314-246-7525. The Film Series can only accept cash or checks.

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