Director: Luke Lorentzen
Runtime: 90 minutes
What could be more exciting than life as a nocturnal paramedic? Perched always on the edge of your seat listening to the crackly dispatcher’s voice on the radio. Throwing the ambulance into gear and flipping the switch for the lights and siren when a distress call comes in. Speeding through rain slicked streets around and against traffic, the red and blue of your lights bouncing off every reflective surface, meshing into a shade of desperate purple. Showing up at the worst moment in someone’s life as the rescuer. Living every moment teetering on the edge of life and death.
Midnight Family, a documentary about a single family running a private ambulance in Mexico City, is exactly that intense. The Ochoa family rushes from accident to accident doing all they can to save the people suddenly in their care. Luke Lorentzen’s documentary is immersive. His cameras are always in the middle of the action peering in as the Ochoas try to save people’s lives and all but leaning out over the front fender of the ambulance as they hastily navigate the always clogged Mexico City streets. At one point, the ambulance begins to speed off and almost leaves Lorentzen behind. He jumps through the back doors just in time.
But like their patients, the Ochoa family is also just trying to survive – they almost never get paid for their work, and when they do, an inordinate amount of their profit must be used to bribe Mexico City police officers who would otherwise impound the ambulance. Each night proves as perilous for them as it does for the people they rescue, if so much more depressingly banal.
The Ochoa’s are filling a need in Mexico City, a city of 9-million people, where the government only operates 49 official ambulances. That they are harassed by the police and treated as vultures by the people they help is all the more tragic. And while it’s tempting to condemn a Mexican government that is known for corruption, consider the way our government sometimes treats its own civil servants. As was highlighted recently during the government shutdown and by the thousands of teachers striking across the country – our own public workers are often living on similar terms.
Midnight Family is a cinema verite´ documentary. It aims to drop us in the midst of the action and record it without comment. The conclusions we draw are our own. And it doesn’t offer easy resolutions either. How could it? The problems facing Mexico City and the Ochoa family are on-going. There’s always another emergency call, another cop to bribe, another night on the rain-soaked, blue-red-purple streets.
Written by- Elijah Davidson