Saturday, February 02, 2013

Oscar nominated documentary shorts emphasize human need


The Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts for 2013 is quite an intense 3-1/2 hour program.  The documentary maximum length is 40 minutes, and these documentaries needed their full time.

All of the documentaries leave the viewer with the message, “It could have happened to me.” 

The films are presented by Daniel Junge.  I saw the program at the West End Cinema in Washington DC today.  There was an intermission (built into the film sequence itself) after the first three films.  This experience was like going to the movies in the days of “Sound of Music” or “Dr. Zhivago”.
   
The first film, “Kings Point”, by Sari Gilman, was the “lightest” and shortest (31 minutes). It depicts the lives of seniors living in a garden condominium community in Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, FL, a community first built around 1970 when people were fleeing New York.  Curiously, I remember a job interview there for RCA in February 1970, about the time that this condo was set up. The people all need socialization and to be kept busy, and much of the film concerns the question of whether romance, beyond companionship, still works.  One man doesn’t want to marry a woman ten years older because he doesn’t want to become a widower a second time, but in fact he dies shortly thereafter.

After this warmup, the moral tests (for the audience as well as the subjects in the films) start.

Mondays at Racine” (Cynthia Wade, 40 minutes, for HBO) starts out by presenting sisters Rachel and Linda who, the third Monday of every month, dedicate their Long Island salon to helping women dealing with breast cancer, particularly the hair loss from chemotherapy.  Most of the film, however, traces the lives of the women, as patients, and as wives and mothers. The clinical aspects of the surgery and chemotherapy are quite graphic. For example, women lose not only their scalp hair (resulting in pre-emptive shaves and wigs) but their eyebrows and eyelashes, too.  Men would sometimes face the humiliating loss of all their body hair.  The tenderness of family interaction with the kids is shown, but the movie does not spare us the problem of men who no longer can deal with their wives sexually.  One husband says he is not enough “a man”, but the wife asks him to leave.  A local supermarket here in Arlington VA has held “be brave and shave” (heads) benefits for chemotherapy patients.  Although I am already naturally bald by genetics, I can’t bring myself to make that kind of experience “OK”.  (See also Oct. 11, 2011 for a Lifetime set of "Five" short films on breast cancer; See “BillBoushka” blog Nov. 8, 2009 for Westover Market’s “Be Brave and Shave”.) 
  
Inocente” (by  Sean Fine and Andrea Nix) is a fifteen-year old girl and prodigy painter, growing up in a homeless single-parent Latino family in San Diego.  She explains that homelessness doesn’t mean living in the streets; it is bouncing among shelters and short-term apartments while her undocumented mother works “off the books” until she gets “caught”.  She explains that her mother, herself and four younger brothers ran from their father after she accidentally upset him one night and he turned violent, getting arrested and deported while the family escape.   Finally, she gets into a boarding school academy on the basis of need.  She has an art show and sells all her paintings, one of which, “Lost Planet”, looks like an extraterrestrial landscape with high yellow mountains, a blue-giant star for a sun, and an oily lake in the foreground.  She also paints her own face, sometimes.
   
Redemption” (by John Alpert and Matthew O’Neill, 35 min) is exactly that:  street people in New York City collect recycle waste, carry it in bags and shopping carts (powered by bicycles) and turn the items in for 5 cents an item at “redemption centers”.  One woman had once been a top computer sales person but now could not survive on Social Security.  Some people di d not speak English, and lived in “illegal” grungy dives ten people to a 200 sq foot space.

I’ll mention that a church in Washington DC that I grew up in used to make sandwiches for the homeless after brunch on Sundays, but the DC health department didn’t let this generosity continue.

  
Open Heart” (Kief Davidson, 40 min, HBO) traces eight children from Rwanda as they travel to Sudan to the only modern cardiac center in the region, for open heart valve repair surgery to repair damage done by untreated scarlet and rheumatic fever.  The film is quite striking visually, comparing the squalor of sub-Saharan Africa with the blue-and-white operating room, state of the art, staffed by Dutch and British surgeons, in Khartoum.   The film actually shows the heart being opened and stitched and restarted with paddles. Matt Damon helped produce the film. This film appeared at both Sundance and Tribeca in 2012. 

I really wonder how documentary filmmakers were able to capture the intimate details of all of these poor people’s lives. 
   
The link for the film set is here.
   
The films played to an sold-out audience today at the West End.  Most moviegoers found the experience very intense.  The official distributor will be Magnolia Pictures.  

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