In a world where an actual presidential candidate flat-out stated that the American health care system was just fine because the poor and uninsured could just go to the emergency room, a film festival about the crisis in health care would seem to be a necessity.

Thankfully, we here in Portland have Space Gallery, 538 Congress St. (

Space, every Portlander’s first stop when searching for alternative film fare, is hosting a trio of health care-related documentaries over the next month. Each of them examines a different aspect of the challenges Americans face when, you know, not wanting to die and stuff.

“With a glut of films coming out about health care issues at the same time, it’s almost like the universe presents you with a little series,” explains Space’s Jon Courtney. “They’re all about people figuring out a way to deal with the health care system.”

Space’s Health/Care Film Series consists of:

• “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” (screening at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for $7) examines the various movements attempting to challenge the entrenched bureaucracy and quick-fix, high-cost methodology of the current system with a more holistic, preventative approach dedicated to nothing less than an American health care revolution. Followed by a discussion with Dr. Lisa M. Letourneau, executive director of Maine Quality Counts.

• “How to Survive a Plague” (screening Jan. 18 and Jan. 20) looks back at the tragically inspiring battle of AIDS activists to force the medical community to, by any means necessary, bring attention and effective treatment to patients (including themselves) at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

• “The Waiting Room” (screening Feb. 13) is the raw, award-winning riposte to the idea that a chaotic, overwhelmed ER is every uninsured American’s adequate substitute for the comprehensive health care that the wealthy enjoy.

This film follows the valiant efforts of an inner-city hospital’s attempts to cope with the unceasing flood of low-income patients who’d stubbornly like to live despite not having millions of dollars like certain failed political footnotes.

The series is a typically challenging, eclectic mix of films from Space, which, while not a dedicated movie theater as such, continues to be the No. 1 destination for Portland-area viewers looking for an alternative to the chain theater fare.

That’s a fact that, somewhat surprisingly, Courtney views with mixed emotions.

“Steve and Judy Halpert (at the Movies at the Museum in the Portland Museum of Art) do a good job bringing interesting stuff to Portland,” says Courtney, “but that’s only once a week. In a town where there isn’t a proper art-house theater, Space tries to fill Portland’s serious art-house void.”

For which we film fans are all thankful.

Dennis Perkins is a Portland freelance writer.


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