The Waiting Room

October 21, 2013


Peter Nicks and Linda Davis

A cinema vérité portrait of a California city's public safety-net hospital as it struggles to handle patient overload in a swooning economy and a constantly shifting landscape of health care policy.


About the Documentary

Highland Hospital, a vital part of the city of Oakland, California and the surrounding county, is stretched to the breaking point. It is the primary care facility for 250,000 patients of nearly every nationality, race, and religion, with 250 patients crowding its emergency room every day. The Waiting Room is an immersive documentary film that weaves together several stories that unfold in surprising ways in the ER waiting room. It is an intimate rendering of the story of our health care system at a moment of great change told through the eyes of people stuck — sometimes for up to 14 hours — in the waiting room. The film tells the story of a remarkably diverse population – as well as the hospital staff charged with caring for them – battling their way through the seismic shifts in the nation’s health care system, while weathering the storm of a national recession. It is a film about one hospital, its multifaceted community, and how our common vulnerability to illness binds us together as humans.

In a purposefully fragmented style, the film will follow young victims of gun violence, artists, and small business owners who lack insurance, steel workers, taxi cab drivers, and international asylum seekers, as well as the young doctors, nurses, and hospital executives struggling to keep the hospital running smoothly.

With the swelling ranks of the uninsured exerting unprecedented pressure on public hospitals, the state budget crisis undermining social service and medical funding, and the current health care reform package threatening to gut public hospitals, Highland faces extinction. Meanwhile, it’s just another day in waiting room.

The Filmmakers

Peter Nicks

Peter Nicks is an Emmy Award-winning shooter/director known for his courageous cinema vérité style. He directed/produced The Waiting Room, which was released theatrically in 2012 to critical acclaim, shortlisted for an Oscar and won numerous awards including the Truer Than Fiction Independent Spirit award. Nicks is a 2015 United States Artist Fellow in the midst of his trilogy of timely, immersive films exploring the interconnected narratives of health care, criminal justice, and education in Oakland, CA.

Linda Davis

Linda Davis is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker who produced The Waiting Room (Independent Lens), a vérité portrait of a day in the life at a public hospital in Oakland, California, which received critical recognition and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best documentary. She also produced The Kill Team (also Independent Lens), about a soldier in Afghanistan who attempted to report war crimes committed by his platoon, which won Best Documentary Feature at Tribeca in 2013 and was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. Her experience includes work on several feature-length documentaries, including The Rape of Europa and Jon Else’s Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic.


  • Independent Spirit Awards

    Truer Than Fiction Award

  • Full Frame Documentary Film Festival

    Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award

  • San Francisco International Film Festival

    Golden Gate Award

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

Have you ever spent time in a hospital waiting room? How has your experience affected your outlook on the state of health care in this country?


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