'Midnight Family': A haunting look at Mexico City's private ambulance services through the eyes of the Ochoa family

With less than 45 emergency ambulances to serve the city's population of 9 million, privately-owned ambulance services like those that the Ochoas provide have sprung up all over


                            'Midnight Family': A haunting look at Mexico City's private ambulance services through the eyes of the Ochoa family

There is nothing extraordinary about the night.

Mexico City, a sprawling, busy and crowded metropolis, springs to life when an ambulance siren breaks the monotony of the night.

The Ochoa family—Fer, his 17-year-old son Juan, and his kid brother Josua—is on the move. Someone out there needs to get to a hospital. 

With less than 45 emergency ambulances to serve the city's population of 9 million, privately-owned ambulance services like the one that the Ochoas provide have sprung up all over. 

Luke Lorentzen's riveting documentary 'Midnight Family' follows the Ochoa family around Mexico City as they ferry patients to hospitals as part of a loose system of private emergency healthcare services. 

(Midnight Family)

Sometimes, people have to wait for over 40 minutes for emergency help because no government ambulance responds, and sometimes, it is too late.

They bridge the gap between the lack of public healthcare services and those that desperately need them: but don't be fooled, the work is highly competitive. 

The services race each other to get to the spot first, sometimes arriving even before the police do. They brave the excruciatingly slow traffic and questionable police shakedowns, all the while going about their lives as they would perhaps with any other job.

Despite all the hard work, the family often ends up not getting paid for their services, especially if the patient has no means to pay. Sometimes, people refuse to pay just because they can.

"There is no other way to go about it," a dejected Fer says after one such incident in the film.

(Midnight Family)

The uncertainty of it all creates a circle that this family just cannot seem to break out of. If they don't race and get there first, someone else will, and there's no way of knowing if the race would actually bring a prize.

If that wasn't bad enough, the threat of ambulances being impounded, and the bribes, leaves very little for the family to be able to put food on the table. 

What is noteworthy, however, is the way these emergency services operate in this ecosystem, finding the balance between taking their job very seriously, their ability to make peace with the lack of money at the end of the night, and managing to stay afloat and do it day after day. 

Lorentzen's film has some seriously panic-inducing car chases, and manages to weave in the intricacies of life and death in this bustling city. It is terrifying and up-close without losing focus on what it is trying to say.

The film is the winner of over 20 film festival prizes, including the Grand Jury Award at the 2019 Sheffield Doc/Fest and the prize for Best Cinematography for US Documentary at Sundance, the film was recently nominated for IDA Documentary Awards for Best Feature, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography.

'Midnight Family' is in theatres in Los Angeles on December 13.

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