Uncomplicated and riveting, “Paramedico” depicts riding around the world in the back of an ambulance as a simple pleasure and a moving experience. Conceived and filmed by Australian paramedic and one-time feature director Benjamin Gilmour (“Son of a Lion”), the pic journeys to four different countries to reveal how lives are saved. Without a false note, this raw, invigorating and often joyful portrait of the profession will enthrall auds. Charmed by its immediacy, fest programmers will turn into ambulance chasers, while TV pubcasters will also answer the pic’s siren call.
A Benjamin Gilmour, McFillums production. (International sales: Benjamin Gilmour Prods., Sydney.) Produced by Gilmour, Alison McSkimming Croft.
After completing “Son of a Lion” in northwest Pakistan in 2007, Gilmour did what many directors are told to do: He went back to his day job. Still working as a paramedic in Sydney, he wrote a book on his international counterparts, which served as good research for this docu. Winning confidence with his own medical credentials, the helmer jumped into the back of ambulances in Lahore, Mexico City, Honolulu and Venice and started shooting.
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Eschewing voiceover, Gilmour lets the images speak for themselves by employing a day-in-the-life structure, intercutting stories from across the globe. In each location, the job has a distinct character. The Venetian ambulance is a boat, natch, and those in need of medical attention often live at the top of ancient, elevator-free buildings. Diabetes cases run rampant in Hawaii; Lahore paramedics need to prepare for terrorist attacks; and Mexico City has numerous gunshot victims.
Everywhere, however, it’s the paramedics’ fortitude that resonates. Small but frequent annoyances, like faulty and expensive-to-fix gas gauges, are juxtaposed with the grueling reality of working double shifts to make ends meet.
While the differences are stark, the paramedics’ universal similarities make the docu feel cohesive. Whether they’re treating the elderly or helping drunks who have injured themselves, each region’s paramedics are shown to be men and women of commitment and compassion as they tend wounds inflicted by accident or malice. Self-taught helmer and lenser Gilmour captures all the action in clear but sometimes confronting shots on par with professional news reportage. Editor/co-producer Alison McSkimming Croft’s editing keeps things flowing, organizing the material into recognizable segments, as when they contrast the paramedics’ choices of spiritual nourishment or different approaches to down time, so necessary for them to maintain their resolve. Sound quality is sharp enough to catch most of the dialogue, and breezy lounge music forms an effective counterpoint to the intensity of these life-and-death scenarios.