CORVALLIS — A few seconds before Jennifer Buys stuck a needle in my face, an enormous wave of regret washed over me.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a run-of-the-mill movie review? How did it come to this?
It was my fault, of course. Lynn Walker, a Corvallis documentary filmmaker, called to discuss her new project that touts Chinese medicine and its practices. It is making the rounds — and raking in awards — along the West Coast, including at the Los Angeles Reel Film Festival and Oregon Film Festival.
The film, “East Meets West: Oriental Medicine and the Future of Healthcare in America,” makes a strong case for the United States to embrace holistic medicine and incorporate acupuncture, Chinese herbal treatments and other natural remedies into the traditional Western medical field.
Walker made her pitch, but I was as skeptical as someone buying stock in the payphone industry. So I called Buys — the writer, producer, narrator and editor and also a licensed acupuncturist in Corvallis — and offered to put the centuries-old wellness treatment to the test.
My dubious feeling toward acupuncture as a legitimate means of health care stems from my own (successful) history receiving Western-world treatments: invasive operations and prescription drugs, which Buys and her colleagues featured in the film say can, and should, often be replaced with holistic modalities.
When stress or depression are diagnosed, the most common remedy is a litany of prescription drugs. Buys, in her deftly delivered narration, counters that an hour spent lying on her table can be a safer and more effective alternative.
Which brings me back to the needle sticking out of my face.
I don’t know why I offered to go to her Corvallis studio for an introductory session. I hate needles, and it’s a hatred that runs deep. The word scared also applies. I make the Cowardly Lion look like John Wayne whenever a needle is present, and Buys had, oh, about a million of them.
The majority of the 60-minute film plays out like an Acupuncture 101 lesson, so I felt enlightened by the time I was sprawled out on the table. Client testimonials are interspersed here and there in the movie, and one woman claims it’s “not an uncomfortable experience.”
The most common conditions of acupuncture patients are stress, depression, fatigue and back pain. I suffer from none of those, underscoring yet again that I inexplicably volunteered to have Buys lodge 17 needles into my legs, arms, hands, feet, ears, abdomen, chest, face and head.
The whole process, really, was harmless and relaxing, except for a terrifying moment when Buys and Entertainer photographer Jesse Skoubo shared a laugh while counting the needles — “Are there four in the head, or five?” — as I lay helpless like someone who had fallen into a prickly pear cactus.
Time will tell if I return for my second session, but that’s certainly not a knock against the film. It is well made and, like any good documentary, is filled with facts and information that make the viewer say, “Hm. Interesting.” That had to have been the filmmakers’ desired audience response.
The final 15 minutes are the most engaging as Buys and a handful of professionals spell out how the two different worlds of health care can be efficiently intermingled. The people on screen — nearly all of them staunch advocates of Chinese medicine with a couple Western-medicine practitioners mixed in — never stray into a holier-than-thou diatribe. Such a tactic could have compromised the project’s mission.
“The idea behind it is really to take the air of mystery out of Eastern medicine so that it’s not so unfamiliar to people,” Buys said. “It’s really an elegant, effective and complete system of medicine. Hopefully the film will create more of a discussion about how we can deliver a much more effective overall system of healthcare.”
Theirs is a message worth hearing. After all, they’re the ones holding the needles.