This documentary gives a graphic and challenging insight into the thinking of a schizophrenic mind. But whose story is it, producer Laura Starecheski’s or mental inpatient Issa Ibrahim’s? The process of recording a documentary over such a long period of time (ten years) is tough and always difficult to negotiate. What starts out as a journalistic exercise becomes something very different as your relationship develops over time with the people you are recording. Here, it’s the narrator who drives the story on, weaving in and out of the interviews and actuality, and it’s the strength of the writing that compels the listener to stay with the program or tune out, working in much the same way as a good print feature article. Although the storytelling is strong, there were times when I thought the program could have adopted a less conventional approach to the journalism and the telling of the story. We hear very little interaction between Issa and the journalist, or the journalist and the other interviewees. A stronger aural depiction of the hospital could have added to the listener’s understanding of the space itself and Issa’s feelings of confinement and isolation, as well as his interactions with hospital staff. The fast-paced intercutting between narration and interview, the ‘call/response’ crafting technique, while extremely skillful in this work, creates a rhythm that gives less space for the listener’s reflections on what they’re hearing. That said, atmospheric music is used extensively in the program and is sensitive and well crafted – adding to both texture and emotional feel. At its heart this is not only a documentary about Issa, his mental illness and his struggle to be released from Creedmoor: its broader story is about the madness of the mental health system, and how it responds to non-compliance.
The Hospital Always Wins (53'05") was made for the US public radio show 'State of the Re:Union' (2013). Listed by Harvard University’s Nieman’s Storyboard as one of the best audio narratives of 2013 in the United States, it is a testament to allowing a story to develop over time, and to the endurance and commitment of producer Laura Starecheski.
Reviewer Sharon Davis is an award-winning Australian radio documentary producer and journalist whose body of work spans more than 30 years. She is well-known for her ability to combine the rigour of investigative journalism with the eloquence of fine radio feature making, including observational storytelling. Her features have been broadcast around the world.
Recommended CitationDavis, Sharon, The Hospital Always Wins: Review 1, RadioDoc Review, 1(1), 2014.