November 14 marks the release of the documentary "Medicine Man: The Stan Brock Story," which chronicles the extraordinary journey of British-born Amazonian cowboy turned healthcare icon, Stan Brock.
The documentary follows Brock's life-changing goal of providing free healthcare to underserved and remote communities across America.
He took up the nation's healthcare issue head-on, sparking a movement that altered attitudes, laws, and perceptions while providing some of the most marginalized members of society with a voice and access to the care they sorely needed.
The film is a contemporary monument to the unifying force of community activism as well as a moving remembrance of a person who gave so much of themselves to help so many others. It also celebrates what the American people can accomplish when they band together to support one another.
Over the past 35 years, Remote Area Medical (RAM) has provided free medical, dental, vision, and veterinary treatment to hundreds of thousands of people through the utilization of pop-up clinics. RAM maintains clinics in both big and local locations, both locally and abroad.
Q: Can you briefly introduce the film?
Paul Michael Angell: The film showcases the immense need that still exists in the U.S. and the vital work of RAM, but it does so in the form of an entertaining documentary adventure that recounts the unlikely tale of a British-born Amazonian cowboy turned U.S. TV star who, later in life, sells everything, takes a vow of poverty and starts a charity staffed by volunteers that provide free health services to those that can’t afford to see a doctor.
And so the volunteers of RAM are the real heroes in this story. It’s a film about how the American people have come together to help themselves when nobody else has done so.
In my opinion, the power of this film doesn’t lie in the shooting, directing, or the editing, but in the idea that there is something very beautiful about people 'learning to care.' This is the personal journey that Stan goes on.
Q: What made you want to direct this film?
PMA: I was intrigued by the vow of poverty — that’s a fantasy many have when life seems complicated — Stan said so too, and said he was fortunate to be able to make it work.
But it was also the combination of a massive social issue and an incredible personal story wrapped up in one person. That’s exactly what you’re looking for in a documentary feature film, perhaps less so if it’s a one-hour for TV.
A few people along the way told me this film should be 60 minutes, but I never bought it.
The RAM story and the Stan story are easily big enough to hold up a 90-minute feature. There are big bits of both stories that we had to skip over to get the film to work (RAM’s international operations, Stan’s discovery of a rare species of bat, the humanitarian prizes he won, his black belt in karate, RAM’s U.S. emergency response operations, and more.) Even the relatively generous 90-minute format can be cruelly reductive.
This film started out as a look at one free healthcare clinic, run by a remarkable humanitarian but became a kind of time and motion study about what happened on the ground for patients for nearly a decade.
We witnessed the introduction of the ACA and saw its shortcomings, such as no dental, no vision, co-pays remained high, including how states pushed back against it, and we saw how in the public sphere, “healthcare for all” became a term politicians were willing to use again.
Overall, I wanted it to be the ultimate riposte to anybody that thinks there is not a problem with healthcare access in the U.S.
Q: Briefly, compared to other countries, what do you think about the current healthcare system in the United States?
PMA: As an outsider from the U.K., I’m reluctant to express my views on the system; I prefer to let the film do the talking for me. After all, I am not an expert on healthcare, I am a filmmaker.
I’d much rather play 'the bumbling enquirer,' as it’s a better technique for getting what you need on camera. I came to observe, then present the truth as I saw it — it may not be how everybody sees it.
However, I do have a belief, and this is borne of my partner’s experience working in criminal justice in the U.K., that there are certain institutions in society that should not be run by the private sector because the goals of those systems are not compatible with the principles of 'competition.'
Competition, in fact, tends to make those systems cost-focused rather than outcome-focused. I think that might lie at the heart of the problem in the U.S. In the U.K., we have a universal free healthcare system (excluding dental and vision) that's paid for by tax revenue.
This means that the system has limited resources. We may not have the latest greatest new medical innovations available to all, but most health treatments do not actually require the latest greatest new innovations.
And if you do require supplementary services and you have the money, you can turn to the private sector, which still exists in the U.K. To me, this seems more equitable and a better basis upon which to found a health system. I’m not sure whether, at this stage, that is a path available to the U.S.
Poppy Green (RAM): We are currently facing a healthcare crisis in America where millions of individuals are in desperate need of care. Our system has become increasingly disjointed and fractured, leaving everyday people on the brink of financial ruin when faced with an unexpected medical bill.
Even those with insurance still lack access to care when they have to juggle meeting a high deductible, buying groceries and putting fuel in their car.
Further barriers exist when trying to find a provider that accepts your insurance, arranging transportation to and from appointments, taking time from work, securing child care, and, in general, navigating a healthcare system that is neither healthy nor caring.
Q: Can you share a little about RAM and what it does?
PG: Founded by Stan Brock in 1985, Remote Area Medical is a Knoxville, Tennessee based 501(c)3 nonprofit that operates mobile, pop-up medical clinics all across the country.
We provide free dental, vision, and medical care to the uninsured and underserved. We are powered by volunteers, and our mission is to prevent pain and alleviate suffering by providing free, quality healthcare to those in need.
Q: What are some benefits of implementing remote healthcare?
PG: Our model helps to physically deliver care to those who need it most. In many rural parts of America, geographic barriers can compound upon socioeconomic barriers. Sometimes, the cost of a tank of gas is too much to overcome.
In other circumstances there may only be one vehicle in the family and the nearest clinic is several hours away.
Every patient faces unique barriers, and we strive to reduce as many as possible. Even in more urban communities, patients might as well be hours from the nearest facility when there are no clinics that accept their insurance, or they work conventional hours which happen to coincide with the operating hours of their nearest health clinic.
Q: What aspects of Stan's inspirational persona, or the movie overall, would you like to discuss?
PMA: Stan was a man looking for a home and he found that home in America, in RAM volunteers and ultimately, in the patients.
The power of one. The film proves that one person can make a difference, if they have a clear purpose and are empowered to do so.
And that one person can be a unifying force that brings people together to achieve important things, which can actually shift the needle in society.
As much as it is a damning indictment on the state of healthcare in America, what we’ve tried to do is make it a celebration of what America can achieve when everybody comes together; people from different regions with different backgrounds. That American spirit is still very much alive, as far as I can see.
Stan seemed to live his life as a kind of medical monk. It was almost my job to verify that. So, was all this stuff about leading an ascetic lifestyle for real? In 2014, when Stan came to the U.K., he was straight off the flight before his hotel room was ready, so he came to my place that morning.
He was pretty tired from his long haul, and had stood up for the entire flight of course, so I prepared a bed in our spare room and told him he was welcome.
After an hour or so, I popped my head round the door to see if he was alright. Sure enough, he had placed all the bedding up against the wall so he could sleep on the bare floor, with only a thin carpet for comfort. Ever the Amazonian cowboy!
PG: I hope that 'Medicine Man: The Stan Brock Story' inspires viewers to reflect upon what it means to give without the expectation of reciprocity, to live in service to others, and to advocate for those in need.
We can truly make a difference in the world when we put aside our differences, set down our preconceived ideas of what it means to need and simply give.
RAM will always be a place to lose yourself in service to others and the first step starts with visiting ramusa.org.