HBO to Debut Clínica de Migrantes, the story of Puentes de Salud
The documentary reconstructs the story of how Puentes managed to become a kind of "sanctuary clinic" for immigrants in South Philadelphia.
Although the body’s numbness and the dryness in the eyes are the daily bread for this writer-immigrant who spends on average 9 hours a day sitting in front of a computer, this time the appointment with the doctors of Puentes de Salud was not due to a muscular ailment but to the premiere of the documentary that tells its story.
The place: the majestic Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. The guests: the professional team of Puentes, members of Philly’s medical community, immigrant patients and medical students. The day: last Tuesday, September 19th.
Clínica de Migrantes is a 40 minute film that tells the story of how Puentes became what it is today: the only option many immigrants have to access a health service in Philadelphia. In other words, a kind of "sanctuary clinic".
The film begins with a sequence of moving images that run through an empty Italian Market, without people, a frame that symbolizes the presence of a specific community in South Philly and that nevertheless is absent in scene.
Is this a metaphor of the invisible difficulties that thousands of undocumented people face every day that we’re not aware of? Certainly, one of them is the access to health insurance due to the language barrier, working conditions and the environment of persecution.
Following director Maxim Pozdorovkin - known for films such as Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013) and The Notorious Mr. Bout (2014) -, the camera accompanies in real time the reconstruction of the path taken by its founders, Dr. Steven Larson and Dr. Jack Ludmir, from when they started in a loaned clinical center in 2004 until when they opened their own headquarters a couple of years ago at the intersection of South and 17th street.
Four independent stories are overlapped in the course of the film.
One of tenacity: represented in the daily struggle of Dr. Larson and his omnipresence in every detail of the work of Puentes: from the tireless search for financial support, to an almost paternal accompaniment to his patients.
One of ethics: reflected in the human treatment that Dr. Ludmir tries to teach his team of students / medical and nursing volunteers in each case attended. "I don’t care that much about the medical aspect, because that is something you learn, but you have five seconds to show heart and compassion to people who are generally going through hell," he said during the discussion after the screening.
One of will: portrayed in the affectionate and unconditional accompaniment of Daphne Owens, Physician who works as a volunteer, and Mary, a patient with terminal cancer.
And one of gratitude: reflected in the faces of more than 10,000 immigrants who come every year to the offices of Puentes.
For Pozdorovkin, the goal of Clínica de Migrantes, beyond telling its story, is to put the migratory debate on fair terms. "[The documentary] presents a human portrait of the undocumented population in this country. We wanted to focus on what this population is going through, what it is like to live in the shadows, how the situation of the working class is, and how access to health care and other social services it’s systematically denied."
In addition to the evolution of Puentes de Salud, the film records the cases that are most prevalent for physicians: pregnancies in very young women, physical and emotional pains of patients who can’t stop working, neglected diabetes, and even an immigrant abandoned by a hospital with a terminal diagnosis of leukemia.
Steven Larson, executive director of Puentes de Salud, says the documentary is not a political manifesto but a reflection on medical work. "There is an ethical story that has to be told and it’s about doing the right thing: caring for people without regard to their geographical origin."
Clínica de Migrantes portrays these two sides of the same coin: the difficulties faced by those - like Larson, Ludmir and his team - who want to provide health access to immigrant communities and those who, while being forced to work in poor conditions, live in a state of vulnerability that kills.
But above all, it’s a poignant account of solidarity and professional ethics put towards a service of those who need it. And the bonds of friendship that bring together and unite two divorced worlds: the immigrant and the medical community of the United States.
HBO and HBO Latino will premiere Clínica Migrantes on Monday, September 25th at 10:00 p.m.