Just last week, the “Academy” issued its short list for best documentaries of the year—and one of my sister’s films made the pick of the litter! (I’m so proud!)
For the record, her production company invested in the amazing film, War Dance, as a result of its treatment of human rights issues—but she wasn’t its director. Her self-directed documentary, Shoot Down (another human rights-themed documentary), will be in theaters late January for your viewing pleasure.
I offer you this off-topic intro to a treatment of the film, Sicko, and its appraisal of the human healthcare industry because it, too, made the short list. I sat through it last week and, as usual, I have a characteristically veterinary POV to offer.
For starters, let me be very honest: I didn’t find Sicko to be a documentary on par with the fourteen others on the list. Michael Moore may have a way with US audiences and he may have a point (which I sometimes agree with) but his approach to documentary filmmaking rubs me the wrong way—period.
I want facts and I want drama but I also want to be challenged. In Sicko, MM does little beyond pander to our fears and our sentimentality in near equal measures. He cheapens his arguments in favor of what may in fact be reasonable considerations by electing to implement kooky tactics and anecdotal, over-the-top comparisons between the US healthcare system and those of countries where healthcare is “free.”
Like Mr. Moore, I too have a thing for universal healthcare. As a veterinarian, I’ve puzzled over animal healthcare models that might best our human versions. I’ve yet to achieve enlightenment on the subject, but I do know that our system of human healthcare is broken and that our veterinary version has similarly fallen prey to the haves-and-have-nots conundrum we face in America with respect to basic healthcare for our citizens.
Let me be clear: I make no claims to the superlative need for animals to achieve universal care before humans do. In fact, I sometimes marvel at the attention paid the pets in this country relative that to many of our most desperate members of society. I’ve wanted to treat the wounds of the homeless that wander behind our hospital the same way I’d attend to the sick cats in my backyard (sorry if that seems a coarse comparison)—but I’m not allowed. No matter that they’re not getting help anywhere else, it’s hands off humans for us vets despite their dire need.
The upshot is that Mr. Moore misses his mark by offering simplistic solutions on par with my feline comparison: Just help them, for God’s sake; they’re human, after all. And perhaps that’s what a certain kind of documentary should do: pose a problem, ruffle a few feathers, suggest some solutions and get out fast before it gets mired in the reality of what it’s proposing.
But that’s not what artistic documentary filmmaking is all about. It shouldn’t be a trite polemic on the evils of our system relative to the so-called successes of nations like Cuba (puh-lease!). It shouldn’t advance ideas that further the director’s personality more than it does the subject at hand. And, most of all, it shouldn’t sacrifice its soul to a punch-line.
I may be a documentary snob (I see more than my share as a result of my sister’s career) but I’ve had cause to enjoy Mr. Moore’s films before—and this one misses the mark entirely. Would that it could have served as a call to action with a more complete assessment of the alternatives on our nation’s plate as we move towards restructuring our system.
Instead, Sicko finds us languishing in the same spot we were before we pressed the Play button: no better, no worse, no more enlightened or moved to change the world around us…just a little more indignant, perhaps.
And for this vet? No, it doesn’t make me want to spay more cats or bandage up more homeless. But it does make me feel that if Michael Moore can propose pithy solutions to the dilemma we’re in, this veterinarian’s approach to reforming the system deserves at least equal consideration.