Hot Docs 2023 Review: A Still Small Voice

by Andrew Parker

A poignant look at emotional depletion and challenged faith, A Still Small Voice is one of the most moving documentaries made during the recent pandemic era about people struggling to keep a level head.

Director Luke Lorentzen (who made 2019’s spectacular and also medical themed documentary Midnight Family) follows and observes Mati, a chaplain in training at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. Mati is in the middle of year-long residency, but the signs that her job is taking a massive toll on her are obvious. Mati’s repeatedly told by her superior – Rev. David Fleenor, who’s also in therapy to cope with his job – that she needs to establish better emotional boundaries if she wants to last in her position. That’s easier said than done in a place where emotions are bound to run high, and are currently compounded by unprecedented rates of illness, burnout, and exhaustion.

A Still Small Voice is a tough film to watch, but that doesn’t mean Lorentzen’s work doesn’t contain a lot of valuable insight or even a healthy amount of hope. Much like the doctors who treat the sick and injured, these chaplains come face to face with death on a daily basis, repeatedly forcing themselves to reconcile their faith with the fact that mortality isn’t based on fairness or piety. Viewers share in their exhaustion, and wonder what they might do in a similar situation. (A conversation about a grieving family member who says they want to kill themselves is particularly gutting.) Mati might have a long way to go before she can fully steel herself for this job, but her supervisor would probably agree that there’s no way to fully prepare someone for the crisis being experienced in many hospitals at that moment in history.

And Lorentzen deserves a lot of praise for never forcing his subjects to open up in the moment. When they feel like talking, they will. He’s simply there to observe and empathize. And we are simply there to bear witness and share in their complicated experiences. In A Still Small Voice, the environment might be a pressure cooker, but things will happen in their own time.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023 – 2:00 pm – Scotiabank Theatre 6

Saturday, May 6, 2023 – 8:30 pm – Scotiabank Theatre 7

A Still Small Voice was originally screened as part of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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