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Review: Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

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Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke co-produce and co-direct a persuasive critique of interlocking crises in the U.S. medical policy and practice. The title—”Escape Fire: Lessons for the Future of Health Care”—comes from a 1999 speech by Dr. Don Berwick, one of several effective talking heads here. The original “escape fire” was one set in self-defense by a quick-thinking Montana firefighter in 1949. To deprive fast-approaching flames of fuel, he burned away everything in the forest around him and stayed there. He failed to convince others this would work. They fled and died. “Escape Fire” does not advocate sacrificing anything except health industry profits to effect a comparable cure. The filmmakers alarm without panic and reason without histrionics. Possibly over-polished, this documentary deploys fourteen Moby numbers on its soundtrack. The design and tone are recognizable from a handful of two other worthy works, by Errol Morris for one, that found theatrical distribution in recent years. A general practitioner claims a five-minute appointment leading to a costly procedure or prescription can bring in $1,500, while a forty-five minute consultation with a patient about preventive measures may yield only $15 for a practice. Useful testimony comes from Dr. Andrew Weil of the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and from Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, as well as a conscience-striken defector from Cigna. US Army Sergeant Yates, an Afghanistan vet with PTSD, supplies a multipurpose personal saga. Replacing his toxic costly mix of pharmaceuticals with acupuncture argues for systemic change. 99m. (Bill Stamets)

“Escape Fire” opens Friday at 600 North Michigan

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