Young filmmakers explore rural medicine

·5 min read

Daniel Rees and Lindsay Webster met at med school and they’ve been making movies together ever since.

Rees, from Conception Bay South, and Webster, originally from the Yukon, each realized the other was into filmmaking when they answered a call from the Memorial University school of medicine for a small project.

“The med school put out a notice,” Rees said in a recent Zoom interview. “They were looking for some med students to put out a small video to welcome the next group of med students that were coming in.”

The notice asked if any students had any experience with video editing.

“We both kind of came forward independently, did the project together, and we had a great time,” said Rees. “And for both of us, at the time, I think it was the best-quality work we had ever done. So we realized there was a bit of synergy there that we could take going forward.”

Rees and Webster started a business of sorts, producing small advertisements and shooting wedding videos.

“We always knew we wanted to do more,” said Rees. “We wanted to do something that was a story that was relevant to us, to our learning, to our journey in medical school, essentially.”

So they snagged a small grant, rented a van and spent two weeks in the summer of 2019 crossing the province and talking to a surprisingly diverse handful of doctors and specialists of all ages and ethnicities.

The two are now fourth-year students, and last month released their 80-minute documentary titled “Talk to Your Doctor.”

“We didn’t realize how much we were getting ourselves into,” Webster said on the Zoom call from Ontario, where’s he’s staying with family. “We certainly bit off more than we could chew.”

In that two weeks, they even managed to cross the Gulf to Labrador, where they talked to a doctor in Goose Bay. The pace was intense, they admit.

Hours of secondary footage and interviews sat in the can for months, until the pandemic shutdown in 2020 encouraged them to pull it all out and put it together.

“Lindsay is a master editor, and certainly in the four years that we’ve been doing this, Lindsay’s had to pick up a lot,” said Rees.

And Dan? He’s an expert videographer and storyteller, his partner says.

The result is a cinematic delight that could pass easily for an extensive tourism package as for a fascinating exploration of rural medicine.

Punctuating the story throughout is some spectacular drone footage around the coves and inlets of the province.

“The drone was Dan’s,” said Webster. “And again, I don’t think it was something I necessarily realized at the time how important that drone footage was going to be. I didn’t realize at the time how much that really added to the story, showing the beauty of Newfoundland.”

The team also contacted local filmmaker Devin Sooley, who provided a bit of B-roll footage to help sew the scenes together.

The pair were lucky to hit mostly good weather, as it all had to be shot on the fly.

They would shoot as much as they could in the time between interviews and travel.

“As soon as we were done and we were wrapped, it was kind of, get everything in the van, let’s hit the road, we need to make it to Grand Falls before midnight so we can get a few hours sleep before the next day,” said Rees.

Rees said they almost had to leave Goose Bay without any aerial shots.

“We spent one day in Goose Bay, and the day we were there it was pouring rain most of the day, and we were lucky we had about a 30-minute window where it kind of opened up and I was able to get the drone up in the sky.”

Goose Bay was important, he said.

“I think getting up to Goose Bay was one of the biggest challenges of our project, but a really important part, because the care needs of the population in Labrador are very different than the rest of the province, and I think having the perspectives of a Labrador physician who does do fly-ins to the actual remote coastal communities of northern Labrador was really valuable.”

So, what did they learn about rural medicine?

The two admitted in the interview — as they do in the documentary — they were disheartened when they first arrived home.

“It was easy for us … to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done in these rural areas in order to improve both access and health care for the population, as well as improving the working and living conditions and the general well-being of the physicians who are working out there,” said Webster.

But he says they were also inspired by the resilience of the doctors they met and the way they had adapted and been flexible.

“By reframing it and talking a lot about the ways they’ve improved the situation for themselves and are continuing to work to improve the situation for the population and other colleagues, I think is what ultimately flipped the story on its head and really made us inspired for both of us to pursue family medicine, but also to share this with the public.”

The pair says they’ve received a lot of positive feedback on the film from medical organizations across the country and even as far away as Australia.

They’ve also met with the Health Accord Task Force, which is addressing some of the very issues brought up in the film.

“Talk to Your Doctor” can be viewed online at talktoyourdoc.org, or on YouTube.

Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram