FILBo: Patients and patience in the Colombian healthcare system

By Honor Scott May 2, 2019
Colombian healthcare system, paciente
The book, Casting for a death seeks to “exorcise” some of the emotions that arose from the filming of Paciente. Photo: Paciente

The 2016 documentary Paciente sought to investigate the Colombian healthcare system. Some of the stories spilled over into Casting for a death, a book which followed its success.

One of the messages that FILBo seeks to spread is that “to read is to see the world again through somebody else’s eyes.” But it is not just the pages of a book which have this power. Paciente, the feature-length documentary directed by Jorge Caballero, focuses on the deeply personal, yet also universal experience of one woman as she deals with both her daughter’s cancer and bureaucracy and inefficiency in the Colombian healthcare system.

Discussing the documentary at FILBo, scriptwriter Carol Ann Figueroa explains the double meaning of the title. “Patient” not only refers to the one who is suffering and who is under medical care, but the patience which Nubia must maintain as she tries to secure adequate treatment for her daughter.

Along with producer Rosa Mercedes Ramos, she explained the work that had gone into the documentary. It was five years in the making, beginning with an initial in-depth investigation. and weeks conducting interviews in a cancer ward. That was before they’d even found the people whose stories they would follow and worked to gain the trust of those within the healthcare system as well as those depending upon it.

It was vital, they explain, to make sure that this was no mere “sensation television” that they sought to film, but the truth. They also needed to ensure the collaboration of doctors, though they never experienced a problem in this area. This may seem surprising but, as Ramos points out, “they are the face [of the system], not those to blame [for its failings].”

Money was an issue as well as time. Filming a documentary like this, they point out, takes a lot more than just “having a camera and a person to film.” Perhaps even more significant, though, were the emotional costs involved, observing and filming “people on the verge of death.”

Related: Calle y Poché: homegrown Youtubers top the FilBo bill

It was this which prompted Figueroa to write Casting for a death, which she describes as “an attempt to exorcise an intense experience with illness and death.” The documentary, in just 70 minutes, could not hope to contain all of the stories and people they encountered during the process, and thus it is through this medium that she aims to reinforce its message about how we “have to be more conscious of illness, pain and death,” but also of the “injustice” and “inhumanity” behind the doors of the Colombian health system.

As both the book and the documentary seek to bring to light, it is not just disease, but “the system [that] kills us.”