Tough pill to swallow

HBO’s upcoming documentary “Clínca de Mingrantes” shows harsh truths for undocumented immigrants seeking health care in South Philadelphia.

Dr. Jack Ludmir talks with other medical professionals in a scene from the HBO documentary ‘Clinica de Migrantes’ that focuses on undocumented immigrant health care in South Philadelphia. Image courtesy of HBO.

Opening with muted shots of crowded and trash-laden streets, Maxim Pozdorovkin establishes a bleak view of South Philadelphia. The colors brighten as his documentary, “Clínca de Mingrantes,” introduces Puentes de Salud — a nonprofit medical organization that gives undocumented and uninsured immigrants medical care.

The documentary was produced by HBO and will premiere Monday (Sept. 25). Director Pozdorovkin set out to put a human face behind undocumented immigrants, as he believes today they are stereotypically associated with criminalization.

Puentes de Salud, 1700 South St., was founded in 2004 by a group of doctors in response to the growing Latino community. According to the clinic’s website, an estimated 30,000 reside in South Philadelphia. The clinic, run entirely by volunteers, provides a large variety of medical services to the undocumented and uninsured, so that they may seek treatment before going to the emergency room is required.

With a run time coming short of 40 minutes, the documentary covers the history of the clinic up to present day.

The subject matter makes for immediately sentimental viewing, though the short length is a detriment. What it succeeds at the most is showing how caring the doctors are for their patients — many are seen going above and beyond in their service.

Dr. Steve Larson, one of the founders, is more or less the doc’s protagonist. The camera shows how dedicated he is to the clinic — during an exam, he questions a patient about an unusual injury, making sure it is not the result of abuse. Outside the clinic, he tries (to mixed results) to enlist the help of nearby restaurants for financial help.

With a topic as relevant and politically lavish as this, the doc does seem to leave questions unanswered and some stones unturned. Some clips seem to be included just introduce more faces benefitting from the clinic, but leaves their full story untold. A lengthier play time would have hugely benefitted in humanizing the clinic by telling fuller stories of its doctors and patients.

Which isn’t to say the more isolated clips aren’t effective — every scene of the doc contributes to its rejuvenating momentum. In one scene, a crying mother in a check-up room recalls performing physical labor through intense pain to give a better life to her son. “You go to work every day, even when you’re sick,” she says, tearfully quoting her son. “If I didn’t have that, it would be all over.”

Behind the camera, Pozdorovkin is cautious to interfere or ask questions, preferring to capture real events as they happen.

The documentary concludes with exactly what it needed. A patient, diagnosed with cancer, is unable to get the care she needs at the clinic, and needs to visit a hospital near her hometown. The doctors help this patient (who came to Philadelphia alone to work and earn money for her children) with everything from food to travel arrangements.

Driving the patient from the clinic, Larson asks her what she wants to eat. She requests a sandwich from Subway. Instead, he takes her to a restaurant she had mentioned to him a few weeks ago. It’s loving texture like this that gives the documentary its heart.

Pozdorovkin is a documentary veteran — he directed 2013’s “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayerand 2014’s “The Notorious Mr. Bout” about an international arms smuggler, all notably had at least double the screen time this doc has. This is his second venture with HBO. With this installment, he studies medical care and the Latino community, but more prominently, optimism in humanity.

Clĺnica de Migrantes

Debuts on Sept., 25

10–10:40 p.m.


The film will also be available on HBO Latino, HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and affiliate portals.