Screening of healthcare doc Escape Fire in Woodstock to benefit O+ Festival

Still from Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare

Necessity being the mother of invention, the gangbusters success of Kingston’s O+ Festival, which has already spawned national interest and copycat events in its first three years of existence, should come as no great surprise. When economic times are tough, people look for alternatives to the money economy – like bartering skills – to help them get by. That goes double for people like artists who work freelance or as independent contractors, and thus have no access to group health insurance.

“Bartering the art of medicine for the medicine of art” is the O+ Festival’s tagline, and the fourth annual event – scheduled for Columbus Day weekend, October 11 through 13 – will once again provide a literal marketplace for people who work in arts-related fields to swap public entertainment for healthcare that they otherwise normally couldn’t afford. The health services are offered at a “pop-up clinic,” following the recently popular model of putting temporary art galleries in unexpected places. It’s a cutting-edge concept that is simultaneously as venerable as a medieval hiring fair, offering a glimpse of a future where we’re no longer stuck in the self-perpetuating morass of a healthcare system that nearly everyone, right, left or center, seems to agree is broken.

But why is that system so deeply entrenched and so resistant to change that even the overhauls planned under the rubric of “Obamacare” will likely only nibble away at the edges of the problems? That’s the topic of a highly praised documentary by Susan Froemke and Matthew Heineman titled Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. The Village Voice called it “An Inconvenient Truth for the healthcare debate.”

While the film makes abundantly clear why, in the words of Dr. Andrew Weil, “We don’t have a healthcare system – we have a disease-management system,” it’s not so much about pointing the finger of blame as it is about spotlighting people who are working for positive change in spite of the systemic obstacles, and what strategies seem to be working. It’s a documentary intended to inspire hope and practical ideas as well as outrage.

So it’s tough to imagine a better centerpiece for the first fundraising event kicking off O+ Festival 2013 than a local screening of Escape Fire. Upstate Films will be showing the documentary on Wednesday and Thursday, March 27 and 28, in Rhinebeck; but the proceeds from the Sunday, March 24th 1:30 p.m. matinée screening at Upstate’s Woodstock theatre, the former Tinker Street Cinema, will be dedicated to helping get this year’s O+ Festival off the ground. Since a lot of the medical services offered at O+ are preventive in nature or emphasize holistic therapies – approaches that the filmmakers argue will ultimately bring down the costs of healthcare for us all – it seems like a natural match.

Festival organizers note that this is the first time that they’ve done specific outreach in the community of Woodstock. “In addition to the Kingston O+ Festival, our long-term goal is to expand this ‘Festival of community’ to other cities,” says O+ co-founder Joe Concra. “Plans also are underway to establish a year-round clinic for the artists and musicians in each community that hosts O+ Festivals, beginning with our flagship here in Kingston.”

“Upstate Films supports O+ because we appreciate its direct-action approach for providing healthcare options for artists and musicians, as well for providing us with a fun-filled weekend Festival,” adds Upstate’s co-director Steve Leiber.

Tickets for the benefit screening cost $10 general admission, $9 for seniors and $8 for Upstate Films members. There will be a post-screening discussion and reception next door at the Varga Gallery, at 130 Tinker Street, where you’ll be able to find out more about O+, purchase all-access wristbands in advance of the 2013 O+ Festival and network with other folks who are interested in bringing related events and services to Woodstock and other communities beyond Kingston.

For more information about the March 24 screening, visit To learn more about the O+ Festival itself, visit And you can view a trailer for Escape Fire at

Escape Fire screening to benefit O+ Festival 2013, Sunday, March 24, 1:30 p.m., $10/$9/$8, Upstate Films, 132 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-6608,



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