Filmmaker Elivia Shaw is often inspired by spaces that act as a microcosm for our larger cultural issues. In the case of “The Clinic,” a finalist in this year’s ShortList Film Festival, she found inspiration from a doctor who works on Saturdays aboard a dingy bus in Fresno, California, and provides clean needles and free medical care to IV drugs users. She used this setting to shoot the film as an allegory on the failure of the health-care system.
“I wanted to make a film about the way our health-care system has failed most of us, especially those who are most vulnerable,” Shaw told TheWrap. “The Clinic” centers on the work of Dr. Marc Lasher and his volunteers inside a mobile clinic who try to help drug addicts without passing judgment.
“I read about Dr. Lasher in a local paper and saw him as someone taking this issue into his own hands and providing a different kind of treatment because he knew the system wasn’t working for his community,” Shaw said. “The observational shooting in the film is literally me uncovering and learning how he treats patients, how he’s training others to see addiction and what harm reduction really means.”
Although “The Clinic” plays like it takes place over a single day, the film was shot on Saturdays over two months, with Shaw’s goal to get about 20 full patient stories that were “unique and different from each other, knowing that I probably needed about five or six to make the film work.”
Shooting inside a confined school bus-sized space came with challenges, while also dealing with the grim reality of the conditions in which the patients in the film were living. “For me, the biggest challenge was marrying the camera set-up and shooting style I wanted to the physical and emotional situation I was in,” Shaw said. “On a more theoretical level, the biggest challenge was making a film that wasn’t voyeuristic but had very real access to people’s suffering,” she concluded. “I saw that as my biggest challenge as a filmmaker and part of the reason I wanted to make the film.”