Accident, MD, is a town like many others in the U.S., full of people with different politics, experiences and lifestyles. But like many other people in America, they are also grappling with the impact of a precarious health care system on their lives. They have different ideas about why it’s a problem, about who’s responsible and how to fix it. But they do all seem to agree on one thing: the system is broken.
Directed and produced by Dan Rybicky, this lucid, insightful short documentary is a snapshot of its namesake community, featuring a cross-section of its citizens as they reflect upon the impact of health care and its insurance industry on their lives and psyches.
Told as a series of interviews, it captures a remarkably broad section of a typical American town, allowing the people of Accident to talk and reflect at length about their experiences and feelings. The depth and intimacy of the interviews are revealing, as each person gets ample space to narrate their stories but also offer up context and opinions.
Many of the people have differing opinions and ideas from one another, in everything from sensibility to politics to lifestyle. Some people say Americans don’t take care of themselves enough; others have taken health into their own hands rather than gamble with the current system. Others have opted out of the system altogether. The editing nestles each citizen alongside one another, and the result is a non-judgmental and compassionate collective portrait that seems to reflect America as a whole.
Beyond the deft editing, the visuals of the documentary often add additional layers of meaning and detail. With a steady frame and a bright, bustling sense of light, the camera favors a wider shot that not only captures the interview subject but the space that surrounds them. There are also many cutaways to details in the scenery — a statue of Jesus, some magazine covers, ironic inspirational signs — that add interest and some playfulness. This visual approach not only builds a time capsule of contemporary America but gestures to the larger social and economic contexts that shape lives.
As the people of Accident reckon with how this faulty system of health care affects already precarious lives, viewers cannot help but begin asking more philosophical questions. As one man asks, “What is health care?” Is it just treating diseases? Is it helping people to thrive? Is it an individual or collective responsibility? And is good health care even possible when it sits amidst many other imperfect systems of resources? By the time the documentary ends, viewers will be left with these large, weighty questions — and perhaps see their own experiences with health and care in a new light.
Filmed in 2016, “Accident, MD” had its origins in the director’s own experience in removing a kidney stone, and discovering he was on the hook for $40,000 for that procedure. The experience seems to have prompted an odyssey of curiosity and a remarkable public document — one that captures the sometimes frighteningly wide impact of this issue on Americans of all stripes. The anger, vulnerability and anxiety that underlies many of these stories still feels sadly relevant and relatable — and for many of us, there is still no solution or security on the horizon, as we cross our fingers and hope for the best.