Monday, February 03, 2014

Oscar-eligible documentary shorts, continued with HBO film about a prison hospice, and a cave sculptor

Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall”, 40 min., by Edgar Barens, has already been viewed on HBO.  The film depicts the effort to build a hospice care unit at the Iowa State Prison, as the elderly prison population increases and is now 20%.  The particular story is that of Jack, who had served in WWII from 1942 to 1945 and been captured by the Nazis, apparently during the Russian invasion.  His own life story had been remarkable enough.  But apparently he had alcohol problems, and at some point in the early 1980s he shot and killed a man while drunk.  There is some suggestion that the murder may have had an element of vigilantism, and that he was not a hardened criminal.  Despite his capture by the Nazi, he had maintained some racist attitudes.
The story is further complicated by the fact that his own son turned him in to police. 

The film was shot in 2005-2006, after Jack had become ill with emphysema.  He had also had a heart attack and been kept in the infirmary ward for some years.  But both private donations and prison label and volunteer caregiving within the prison has set up a comfortable hospice room, even with television.  Jack mends his relationship with his son, and many caregivers become attentive as his shortness of breath worsens.  They are with him to the end.

The film could be compared to 1998 feature  “The Farm: Angola USA” by Liz Garbus and Wibert Rideau, about a maximum security prison in Louisiana with many elderly prisoners.  Another comparison could be Tim Robbins’s film “Dead Man Walking” (1995) with Sean Penn playing the prisoner Matthew Poncelet, and the work of Sister Helen Prejean.
The site for the film is here
The other film was “Cavedigger”, by Jeffrey Karoff, 39 min, which depicts an unusual form of art work: digging caves in the sandstone hills in northern New Mexico, by Ra Paulette, who finds this activity a satisfying form of self-expression.  He (with a wife) has tried to earn a living by having cave homes commissioned, but typically the work stops and he can’t build them the way he wants to.  One of his own caves collapsed, leading him to stop, but then he resumed with a ten year project.
Sandstone is a kind of hardened stand, and is easy to chisel by hand.  The indoor sculptures remind one of some of the spacecraft interiors in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and “Prometheus” movies. The homes and caves are located in the Chaco Canyon area,  where an ancient tribe had built a civilization which it gradually disassembled over two centuries.  The Lama Foundation, which I visited in 1980 and 1984 (“Spring work camp”) and which had to be rebuilt after a 1996 wildfire, is about 100 miles to the East.

I can recall that a workplace friend broke an arm spelunking in W Va around 1989.
Wikipedia attribution link for Dixon, NM picture.

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