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Wednesday 17 June, 2020

For 13 weeks now, millions of people have been staying inside and working from home. But so many have continued to commute to work to provide vital services to the public throughout the pandemic. 

As lockdown rules are eased and it looks like life is set to change once again, we want to salute all the key workers from around the globe who are working on the frontlines. To pay tribute, we’ve brought together a collection of non-fiction feature films and television documentaries that focus on key workers.

So here’s to the NHS workers, teachers, rubbish collectors, postal workers, delivery drivers and many more, who have been supplying our families with much-needed love and care, teaching, waste removal, essential mail and endless amounts of online deliveries.



THE DIRTY WAR ON THE NHS / John Pilger / 2019 / 106 mins

This documentary feels relevant now more than ever. Renowned filmmaker and journalist John Pilger takes on the National Health Service in his latest, heartfelt investigation.

The doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff that work for the NHS are some of the most crucial and key workers on the frontline, ensuring people are cared for during these tough times. "This film is a tribute to a unique institution," says Pilger at the start of The Dirty War on the NHS

Above all, the film is a warning. Pilger investigates the dismantling "by stealth" of "a last bastion of true public service".

Watch The Dirty War on the NHS on Curzon Home Cinema.

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Luke Lorentzen / 2019 / 81 mins

Mexico City, Mexico. With a minuscule number of government ambulances in operation, an unofficial network of private ones prowl the city streets, competing for patients.

It's the family business for the Ochoas: father Fer and his young sons Juan and Josué. Often it’s a nail-biting race to get to a scene before the competition - and then to get patients to a hospital alive.

With abundant empathy for their passengers, the Ochoas also need to make a living - and often ask for money up front. In their downtime, girlfriend problems, hunger pains, sleep, all have to be taken care of from within the ambulance. Times are tough, and about to get tougher: police demands are escalating, as are the kickbacks.

Watch Midnight Family on Curzon Home Cinema, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play and Sky Store

Then watch our Q&A with Director Luke Lorentzen and producer Kellen Quinn here.

SOFIA’S LAST AMBULANCE / Ilian Metev / 2012 / 76 mins

Continuing on the theme of emergency service workers, Sofia’s Last Ambulance, like Midnight Family, takes place in city with a staggering mismatch between the number of inhabitants and the number of ambulances available. The Bulgarian capital has more than two million inhabitants and only 13 ambulances.

Ilian Metev's multi-award-winning documentary follows two medics and their driver as they struggle to cope amid a precarious health system. With a dashboard-mounted camera fixed unwaveringly on the faces of Krassi, Mila and Plamen, Sofia's Last Ambulance sidelines sensationalism in favour of humanity, pathos and humour.

Watch Sofia’s Last Ambulance on IDFA, here

THE CAVE / Feras Fayyad / 2019 / 103 mins

In Eastern Al-Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, 400,000 people are trapped in a relentless bombardment which has been going on for years. While above ground is a colourless Armageddon, below is a buzzing hive of humanity, as paediatrician Dr Amani Ballour manages a hospital, treating a constant flow of bomb victims.

Dr Amani tries to provide warmth, kindness and shelter for the many children in her care, but the threat of bombs - and chemical weapons - is constant. 

Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s The Cave is a profoundly moving portrait of how compassion and hope can thrive in the bleakest of settings.

Watch The Cave on Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Prime and Google Play.

PORTERS Dan Ridgeon, James Dougan, Max Cutting / 2015 / 12 mins

Playing as vital a role inside the hospital as the doctors and nurses, our next selection focuses on the often overlooked hospital porter. 

Made by three final year BA students at the University of South Wales, Porters is a beautiful appreciation of the graft, care and kindness of the "general dogsbodies of the NHS", as described by Mike, one of the subjects of the film - 'if you want to know anything, ask a porter. That's us."

Watch Porters above, or at this YouTube link

NIGHT MAIL / Harry Watt and Basil Charles Wright / 1936 / 24 mins

An iconic British documentary, Night Mail is a lyrical look at postal workers on the Royal Mail train delivery service. 

Made by the GPO Film Unit, the film is as much about the movement of mail and delivery of letters as it is a reflection on how Britain is socially, economically and technologically bound together. 

Featuring now famous words by W. H. Auden set to a score by Benjamin Britten, it has become synonymous with the ground-breaking work of the British Documentary Film Movement of the 1930s and 1940s.

Watch Night Mail on the BFI Player.

HIGH SCHOOL / Frederick Wiseman / 1968 / 74 mins

Frederick Wiseman’s second film as a director looks at an urban Philadelphia high school, capturing interactions between students, teachers, parents and administrators. 

Shot over five weeks, this landmark documentary is an early entry in Wiseman’s groundbreaking, decades-long exploration of the life of institutions. It was one of the first direct cinema (or cinéma vérité) documentaries. It was shot over five weeks in March and April 1968. 

Watch High School on Kanopy.


DUSTMAN / director unknown / 1928 / 3 mins

We picked this gem of a clip out of the BFI National Archive from their 'Spotlight on Key Workers' collection, which you can find here

Dating back to 1928, it shows an unexpected prototype bin lorry in action in Sheffield. But, as the BFI notes 'whether through design flaws or the global financial crash around the corner, it would seem that the revolution in bin collection would have to wait a little longer."

Watch the three minute, silent clip on the BFI Player here



Britain’s public service broadcasters have commissioned a wealth of documentaries and doc series focusing on key workers in recent years, marrying outstanding storytelling with valuable insights into the workplace.

The BBC’s Ambulance and Channel 4’s 999: What’s Your Emergency? both use an impressive range of filming tricks and technologies to take you inside the world of first responders. 

Channel 4’s innovation in the use of Big Brother’s filming technology in the real world has yielded long running and gripping documentary series looking at teachers, hospital workers and the police (Educating Essex, etc, 24 Hours in A&E, and 24 Hours in Police Custody).

Most recently BBC Two has aired a two part special of their acclaimed Hospital series looking at the COVID-19 crisis - catch it quick before it goes off the iPlayer.