The 2017 documentary about the world’s busiest maternity hospital is out on DVD from Filmrise.

The Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila averages 60 births a day — as many as 100 in a 24-hour period. Ramona Diaz’s Motherland immerses the viewer in the day-to-day activity of the bustling medical facility. The crowded nature of this public hospital is evident from the start of this film. Expectant mothers are placed two to a bed as their contractions grow in frequency, waiting to be taken into the OR for their delivery. The camera pans over a long recovery room, filled with clusters of beds of sleeping moms and tiny babes.

There’s no narration or talking heads to inform the viewer as the documentary thrusts us into the action. A pedantic staffmember instructs a new mother, along with the viewer, about the “Kangaroo Mother Care” program — basically, a way for moms to keep premature babies warm since the hospital, which serves people in the lower socioeconomic levels of its community, has no incubators. Even the dads are allowed to visit and hold the baby wrapped to their chest in a tube top. These tube tops become bright spots of color in the monochromatic setting of the building.

Diaz and her crew capture the chaos endemic to this hospital in the Philippines. The medical facility is dependent on actual paperwork — no computers are visible. A possible nightmare is resolved in minutes after a confusing episode involving a new mother looking for her baby (which a nurse has been carrying around).

The poverty of the clients is presented in a matter-of-fact style, yet it can be overwhelming to see the limitations faced by these new mothers. A woman in labor holds her cash tightly in hand so her husband won’t have easy access to it. Another mother, after birthing twins, remains in the hospital after her release, unsure how she’ll pay the fees.

Nevertheless, Motherland shines in the moments of companionship between new mothers during their recuperation, celebrating the support system that can grow in such a short period. Diaz’s documentary also shows the staff who discuss family planning options available to the clients (and offer young girls some education about what these birth control methods could mean for their future).

The amount of access allowed to the filmmakers is astonishing, and provides the viewer with real and honest moments between the mothers, or the women and visiting family members. Motherland is distinct in its empathetic treatment of the patients, as glimpses of wonder appear amidst this imperfect medical system.

Motherland is now on DVD from Filmrise (no special features are included) or is available on VOD services (it streams for free on Amazon Prime).

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