Following nearly 120 screenings at film festivals around the world and winning more than two dozen awards, Luke Lorentzen’s spellbinding documentary Midnight Family opens December 6 for a weeklong run at Metrograph. The San Francisco–based Stanford grad initially went south of the border to make a different movie, but after meeting the Ochoa family, he quickly changed direction, embedding himself for six months over three years with Fernando (Fer) Ochoa and his two sons, Juan, who is now seventeen, and Josué, now ten, riding along with them in their private ambulance as they roam around Mexico City searching for hurt people in desperate need of assistance. The film announces at the beginning that there are only about forty-five government ambulances for nine million people in the city, so a slew of independently operated vehicles uses radio scanners and police tips to race toward scenes of accidents so they can take victims to nearby hospitals and get paid for their efforts. However, they are not necessarily properly trained EMTs, and their ambulances are often not registered — the Mexican health-care system is in such disarray that there is little if any oversight anywhere — and if the people they pick up are poor, they don’t collect on the bill.
But the Ochoas, who named their business Med Care, soldier on, going out night after night. They are truly concerned about helping men, women, and children who require medical care, even if they don’t always know the best methods to treat them while speeding toward either a public or private hospital — sometimes making the decision based on whether they have a deal with that hospital to get some cash in exchange for delivering patients. There’s a good reason why it says on their ambulance: “Urgencias Basicas,” which means “basic emergencies.”
Lorentzen expertly unfolds the narrative, as the emergencies start with a broken nose and build up to much more serious health situations. It plays out like a thriller, first with the Ochoas racing through crowded streets and on sidewalks, trying to get to the accident scene before another ambulance does, then roaring to the hospital while their new passenger is still alive. Serving as producer, director, cinematographer, and editor, Lorentzen uses two Sony FS-7s, one mounted on the windshield facing in, the other either handheld or on a tripod in the back, making viewers feel like they’re in the ambulance, experiencing the breathtaking, claustrophobic nature of the Ochoas’ everyday experiences, enhanced by Matías Barberis’s immersive sound design and natural light, which is often quite beautiful, as street lamps and glowing gas stations add a magical quality to the darkness.
There are no talking heads, no experts discussing the health-care crisis, no pontificating about how bad things are. It’s just the Ochoas and their ambulance. Even when they take a break, Fer relaxes right in front of the vehicle, ready to jump into action if a call comes in. “I’d love to take just one night off to show people how screwed they’d be without us. This city would be a mess without private ambulances,” Juan says. Even with them, it’s quite a mess, as Lorentzen does not shy away from the ethical questions raised by the Ochoas’ modus operandi. But in the end, Midnight Family is a gripping and powerful look at the struggles to get quality health care and make a living in Mexico while also evoking the countless medical issues that are prevalent around the world — and in America too.
11 Cortlandt Alley
Sunday, December 8, free, 2:00
Fukushima-born, LA–based performance artist Ei Arakawa will lead a parade of a different kind on Sunday, December 8, inaugurating the new home of Artists Space. The former New Yorker is presenting WeWork Babies (11 Cortlandt Alley), beginning at 2:00 outside Artists Space at 11 Cortlandt Alley with a march of plastic infants that will then go into the lobby and down into the cellar gallery, which serves as an art baby nursery. The piece, complete with Q&A, will be performed by Arakawa, Malik Gaines, Tony Jackson, Sohee Kim, Erika Landström, Shuang Liang, George Liu, Yuri Manabe, Molly McFadden, Gela Patashuri, Jamie Stevens, and Tinatin Tsiklauri, with music by Boston-born, Brooklyn-based composer and installation artist Stefan Tcherepnin and his seven-month-old son, Igor Törnudd-Tcherepnin. Founded in 1972, Artists Space “strives for exemplary conditions in which to produce, experience, and understand art, to be a locus of critical discourse and education, and to advocate for the capacity of artistic work to significantly define and reflect our understanding of ourselves.” The opening-month celebration continues with such other free programs as the album launch “Speaker Music: drape over another” on December 13 and the book launch “Alexander Zevin: Liberalism at Large” on December 16.
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, December 7, free (some events require advance tickets), 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum shows off the best of the borough in the December edition of its free First Saturday program. There will be live performances by Los Hacheros, Gemma, DJ Laylo, Adrian Daniel, and drag collective Switch n’ Play (featuring Divina GranSparkle, K.James, Miss Malice, Nyx Nocturne, Pearl Harbor, and Vigor Mortis with special guest Heart Crimson); Visual AIDS screenings of short films commemorating the annual Day With(out) Art, followed by a conversation between filmmakers Iman Shervington and Derrick Woods-Morrow, moderated by writer Mathew Rodriguez; a book talk on Elia Alba’s The Supper Club with Sur Rodney (Sur) and Jack Waters, focusing on the conversation from the book that asks “What Would an HIV Doula Do?”; a curator tour of the Arts of Japan galleries with Joan Cummins; teen apprentice pop-up gallery talks in “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall”; a night market with handmade artisanal products; and a poetry reading and book signing by Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang from her latest book, Hybrida. In addition, the galleries will be open late so you can check out “Garry Winogrand: Color,” “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” “yasiin bey: Negus,” “One: Xu Bing,” “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion,” “JR: Chronicles,” and more.
The Theater at Gibney 280 Broadway
280 Broadway between Chambers & Reade Sts.
December 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, $15-$20, 8:00
Gibney’s annual DoublePlus program, in which established artists mentor pairs of emerging choreographers, kicks off December 5-7 with Pilipinx-American producer, administrator, contemporary performance manager, and Current Sessions founder Alexis Convento curating works by Korean and black American interdisciplinary artist Dana Davenport and composer and vocal artist Samita Sinha. Davenport will present the new movement piece Experiments for ~Relaxation~, while Sinha debuts Kaalo Jol (“Black Waters”), a duet with Sunny Jain on dhol on Thursday and guitarist Grey Mcmurray on Friday and Saturday. The December 6 show will be preceded at 7:00 by a free Living Gallery site-specific performance of Capital-D Dance by Brooklyn-based dancer, writer, and producer Tara Sheena. The series continues December 12-14 with Alexander Diaz’s Getting closer to Coral and Jennifer Harrison Newman’s topologies, curated by Charmaine Warren, and December 19-21 with Laurel Atwell’s We Wield and Hyung Seok Jeon’s Deep Out Agents, curated by Tei Blow.
Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.
Thursday, December 5, $20, 7:00
The ongoing series “Le Conversazioni: Films of My Life” continues December 5 at the Morgan Library with Laurie Anderson and Nicole Krauss sitting down for a discussion with moderator Antonio Monda, the artistic director and cofounder of Le Conversazioni, an Italian festival started in 2006 dedicated to literature but which has since spread to include other disciplines. Anderson is an Illinois-born, New York-based, Grammy-winning musician, filmmaker, composer, and multimedia performance and spoken-word artist who has released such records as Big Science and Mister Heartbreak, made such films as Home of the Brave and Heart of a Dog, and staged such cutting-edge shows as United States Live, Moby-Dick, and The End of the Moon. Krauss is the Manhattan-born award-winning author of Man Walks into a Room, The History of Love, Great House, and Forest Dark. They will be discussing films that influenced their work. The 7:00 event is being held in conjunction with the Morgan exhibition “Verdi: Creating Otello and Falstaff — Highlights from the Ricordi Archive,” which will be open at 6:00 for ticket holders.
Jack Sim is my new hero. Known as Mr. Toilet, the Singapore native and former construction entrepreneur travels around the globe preaching the gospel of poo, promoting safe and healthy sanitation in countries where bathrooms are scarce and open defecation leads to rampant disease and even crime, especially against women and children, who find themselves particularly vulnerable when they must relieve themselves outside in remote areas. Lily Zepeda tells Sim’s story in her first feature film, the vastly entertaining and important documentary Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man. “The toilet is a spiritual room, a place to cherish and rejoice,” Sim explains at the beginning of the film. “When you go and let go, you’re connected with the universe. That’s why good ideas come up from the toilet. If you survey people before and after they use the toilet, ninety-nine percent of them will be much happier than before they go to the toilet. When you open the toilet door, it’s not the toilet inside; it’s your future.” Sim must go a lot, because he is one happy guy.
Zepeda follows the eccentric Sim as he meets with government officials, local leaders, young students, and the general public in Singapore, China, India, and the United Nations, lobbying for more toilets, particularly for schoolchildren and women. He has a never-ending array of fecal puns (one of his mottoes is “Getting People to Give a Shit”), rides around on a scooter, uses a toilet brush to comb his hair, swims with a poo emoji float, and often dresses up in costume as a man sitting on a toilet, doing his business; the playful animation Zepeda includes highlights Sim’s youthful qualities. Now sixty-two, he is away from home a lot, which disappoints his loyal wife, Julie Teng, and their four kids, daughters Faith and Earth and sons Worth and Truth, who consider their father “a twelve-year-old trapped in a sixty-year-old man’s body.” Sim does things his own way, with little regard for the consequences; he believes strongly in civil disobedience, feeling that certain rules don’t apply to him. “I’m very naughty,” he admits.
Sim is nearly all laughs and smiles until there are rumbles of dissatisfaction with some board members of his nonprofit, the World Toilet Organization, which boasts such fans as Oscar winner Matt Damon, Bollywood star Salman Khan, and “Indian King of Toilets” Dr. Bindeshwar Parhak. “I support his movement, but for me, frankly, the task for Jack is too big,” notes former Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong, not necessarily realizing his own fecal pun. But as goofy as Sim is — and he’s plenty goofy — he knows his shit and is very serious about changing the planet’s perception of poop, one toilet, and one crappy joke, at a time. Mr. Toilet: The World’s #2 Man opens November 22 at Village East Cinema, with Zepeda and Sim participating in Q&As after the 7:00 shows on Friday and Saturday.