June Finfer directs doc about Cook County hospital

June Finfer: award winning playwright, filmmaker

Award-winning playwright and filmmaker June Finfer, acclaimed for her documentaries on Chicago subjects, is writing and will direct a feature length documentary about Cook County Hospital, based on a 2011 book lauded by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top five health books of the year.

County: Life, Death and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital is a memoir by Rush University Medical Center chief medical officer David Ansell.  It covers his 17 years as a doctor at Cook County Hospital, the central public health facility for Cook County from 1914 until the adjacent John Stroger Cook County Hospital opened in 2002.

Ansell started as an intern at County in 1978 and rose through the ranks there until leaving in 1995.  During this time Ansell founded the Breast Cancer Screening Program and became a leading campaigner against the “dumping” of uninsured patients by private hospitals to overburdened public hospitals like County.

Ansell’s agent Susan Schulman brought the book to executive producer Jack M. Cohen of JMJ Productions and Boomstick Films which signed on to raise the budget, expected to be under $300,000. Most of Cohen’s production experience is in horror, but, he says, “County is not a big departure from real-life horror.

“I have known Susan Schulman for many years,” Cohen says. “She knows my business background” as former VP of Sealy Mattress Company, “and I believe was confident that I could move this project forward. I have been very interested for some time in doing a documentary like County, and I believe the doc could have far reaching effects on health care in this country.”

Cohen says the doc will not be just about one great doctor’s experience, but will touch on the far-reaching changes needed so that everyone is afforded good health care. 

He explains that the film will include interviews with Ansell and other former staff, patients and healthcare advocates, and will be narrated by “a well-known Hollywood actor with a very recognizable voice.”

Finfer’s films on Chicago architure

Cohen approached Finfer, of Filmedia Inc. to write and direct the documentary version of County, calling her “the perfect match for this project.”

“She’s done interviews for other health-related films. I am very familiar with her work on other documentaries and in addition to that she is a successful playwright. That combination of that talent is what I was looking for with this project,” says Cohen.

Finfer’s films include The Tugendhat House: Mies van der Rohe’s Czech Masterpiece, which was broadcast on A&E, The Hall of Man, The Farnsworth House, Creating Community: Lafayette Park, and Passionate Nature: Chicago Parks of Alfred Caldwell.  Her play The Glass House will have its Chicago premiere this year.

Cohen “gave me a copy of County, which I read in one day, fascinated,” Finfer says. “I immediately said yes. It is a first person account of the horrors and the beauties of trying to serve patients that other hospitals rejected mainly because they had no insurance.

“The book vividly tells the story of County, the struggle for good medical care for the poorest people in Chicago, and how far we have yet to go in this country.”