Luke Lorentzen’s commitment to compassionate, close-quarters filmmaking recently earned him this year’s Sundance Documentary Directing Award for A Still Small Voice, detailing an aspiring chaplain’s yearlong residency in the spiritual care department of New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. His previous effort, New York Times’ Critics Pick Midnight Family investigates similarly murky ethical territory in healthcare systems through its unflinching depiction of Mexico City’s underground for-profit ambulance industry.
Midnight Family opens with the following statistic: “In Mexico City, the government operates fewer than 45 emergency ambulances for a population of 9 million.” It’s generally a disregarded statistic; yet, one that yearns to be addressed and embodies the pervasive corruption that undergirds Mexico’s neoliberal policymaking. The government “reports having two or three times more ambulances than they actually have,” Lorentzen said. “I had to go to every station and count them to find out what they were reporting was not accurate at all. Or they had that many once, but two-thirds didn’t have engines in them.”
“I think about the film as showing two forms of survival: The Ochoas are trying to survive, and the patients are trying to survive. And at each accident scene, those two kinds of survivals bump up against each other in increasingly complicated ways. The Ochoas have two goals: to save people’s lives and to make a living.” LUKE LORENTZEN
How Lorentzen ended up embedding himself into the fabric of the Ochoa family—a moonlighting paramedic team composed of a father and his two underage sons—was happenstance. Having just graduated from Stanford University and suddenly relocating to an apartment in Mexico City near the General Hospital, Lorentzen woke up to the Ochoa’s family ambulance parked outside his house one morning and asked them whether he could ride along for a night. That quickly became three years of filming in the back of the Ochoa’s ambulance motivated by a desire to “make a vérité doc that operated with a high energy level.”
Luke Lortentzen was born in Connecticut in 1993. He studied Art History and Film Studies at Stanford University and then took to the road, documenting cultural enclaves along the way. In 2014, he directed Santa Cruz del Islote—a short documentary about a Colombian fishing community—and in 2015 his debut feature New York Cuts—a film about New York City hair salons—premiered at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam. Midnight Family was shortlisted for the 2020 Best Documentary Oscar and has inspired Apple TV’s first Spanish-language series.
Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.
- Credits for
- MIDNIGHT FAMILY
- Juan Alexis Ochoa, Fernando Ochoa, Josué Ochoa & Manuel Hernández
- produced by
- Kellen Quinn, Luke Lorentzen, Daniela Alatorre & Elena Fortes
- Luke Lorentzen
- Luke Lorentzen
- Los Shajatos
- Matías Barberis