Film makes 'tragi-comic' statement on health care

Film makes 'tragi-comic' statement on health care

Susan Parenti doesn't cover the Affordable Care Act in her new feature-length movie about the health care system.

Yet "Obamacare" came up as a topic after the premiere of "Health Care in All the Wrong Places" on Tuesday evening before a nearly full house at the Art Theater Co-op in Champaign.

Parenti wrote the script three years ago and doesn't plan to update it.

"Why not? The Affordable Care Act doesn't change the health care system — it changes the degree of access we have to that system," she told me the day after the screening.

"Health care will still be treated as a scarce commodity and be run for the sake of profit. And many of the unfortunate things that happen as a consequence of that structure will still be place under the Affordable Care Act."

Parenti's friend, Dr. Patch Adams, who appears in her movie, shot mainly in Champaign-Urbana with local actors, said Obamacare is better than what Americans have had since health care became "corporatized" in the late 1970s.

Medical care, though, remains "vulgarly expensive" and unequal, with rich people receiving better services than the poor and minorities, Adams said.

"Even though we're getting closer to a system that cares for more people, I would not be surprised if we get more hospitals for wealthy people and fewer hospitals for people with affordable policies," he said at the Art.

Adams and his Gesundheit Institute in West Virginia have worked toward opening a free medical clinic in that state. Sales of the DVDs of Parenti's movie will go toward that effort.

Parenti said the institute received substantial donations in 2013 and is building a teaching center and clinic, expected to be finished in September 2015. The clinic will be free and will operate on 10 percent of the cost of most medical clinics, she said.

Adams, who moved to Urbana a couple of years ago, is a clown, performer and social activist; he started med school in the late '60s. The 1998 movie, "Patch Adams," starring Robin Williams, is loosely based on his life.

A familiar figure to most lifers around town, Parenti is a composer, activist and instructor in the Urbana-based School for Designing a Society; her movie is a project of that school and stars some of its members.

She said at the Art the other night that the school addresses social, political and personal problems, with the aim of making something in or of those problems.

She wrote, directed and produced "Health Care in All the Wrong Places," her first movie. Bogdan Heretoiu shot and edited it; he's thinking of opening a film school, she said.

In it people enter shops, among them a manicure salon, and places like public libraries and churches, seeking health care. The employees of those places, among them the late Walter Matherly who plays the preacher and to whom the movie is dedicated, respond by speaking their own workplace lingo.

Misunderstandings ensue.

The 13 "tragi-comic" scenes in the movie are quirky and sometimes surrealistic and silly. Some are clever, and most are entertaining.

One viewer, a man I didn't know who sat behind me, pronounced the movie "stupid" after the second or third scene. He and his companion walked out midway through. It got better.

I rolled with the movie because I sort of knew what to expect, having seen School for Designing a Society house theater before. Parenti meant the scenes to be metaphors, and a friend of mine said the movie is like house theater, or experimental theater, on the big screen.

During the screening there were a lot of laughs — some of the lines are funny — and applause, particularly when some of the actors first appear on screen.

Some of the actors are really good, especially Maggie Taylor as a compassionate doctor who jumps into the car of a patient leaving her clinic after an appointment.

The physician felt she hadn't spent enough time with her and wants to accompany her home. Maria Manetti does a good job as the startled patient, and in another scene in which she accompanies an ailing man into Matherly's church, after having seen the "Jesus saves" sign outside.

Meadow Jones was also good, and Chris Evans was excellent as the befuddled "patient" who walks into a manicure salon looking for treatment for his toothache.

Elizabeth Simpson also makes an impression. Wearing rollers, a hair net and a house coat, she asks her mail carrier to give her basic health services such as checking her pulse.

Parenti said that isn't as farfetched as it sounds. After the screening she said a real-life mail carrier told her he has received similar requests from people on his route.

DVD release

The DVD of "Health Care in All the Wrong Places" will be released Saturday and includes an interview of the filmmaker, Susan Parenti, and Dr. Patch Adams discussing health-care systems.

The DVD costs $10, with an additional $4 fee for shipping and handling in the United States. A DVD autographed by Parenti and Adams costs $20 plus $4 for shipping.

The proceeds will be donated to the Gesundheit Institute.

To order, go to

A toast

Pedal steel player Dave Easley told an Easley-like story Wednesday night during his gig at the Iron Post. It went like this:

He was at an airport once returning home after playing at a music festival. An older gentleman approached, saying he had wanted to but was unable to attend Easley's band's gig at the festival. Easley noticed the man was also a musician, carrying a banjo case.

"Oh, you play one of those long-necked Pete Seeger banjos," Easley commented.

The man chuckled and replied, "I guess I do."

A man then approached the elderly gentleman and said, "Pete, you're at the wrong gate again." As they walked away, Easley realized he had been chatting with Pete Seeger.

"He was the most down-to-earth famous person I've ever met," Easley said.

We all raised our glasses to toast Seeger, the folk singer who died Monday and had spearheaded the folk music revival.

Then Easley, guitarist Bob Watson and percussionist Michael Powers launched into a jam version of "If I Had a Hammer," a Seeger signature song.

News-Gazette staff writer Melissa Merli can be reached at 351-5367 or Her blog is at

Topics (2):Film, People

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