Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Documentary: Short Subject

I had a chance to catch the short docs a few days ago at the Detroit Film Theater, and it was BRUTAL. Last year there were some downright chipper and inspiring films. Not this year.

    Documentary: Short Subject
  • Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
  • Joanna Aneta Kopacz
  • Nasza klątwa (Our Curse) Tomasz Śliwiński and Maciej Ślesicki
  • La Parka (The Reaper) Gabriel Serra Arguello
  • White Earth J. Christian Jensen

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 covers exactly what you might think, a veteran-focused crisis line. It's a gripping look at the people working the hotline and how they handle their calls. It does get a little stale as there's little narrative arc or exposition and instead a string of calls loosely tied together. While informative and worthwhile, it runs long at 41 minutes, and I wish it had a bit more vision.

Well, veterans thinking of killing themselves is pretty tough, so it's got to get better from there, right? Kind of. Joanna is a poetic recording of a dying woman cherishing what time she has with her son. It's peppered throughout with the advice she is trying to leave him ahead of time which is as beautiful as it is tragic. It stays away from confessionals and wallowing, instead focusing on the life she has left. It's hard, but I hope that sounds happy, because it's the best you're going to get.

That's about how I feel at this point. Nasza klątwa is a story of director Tomasz Śliwiński's family just before and after their first child comes home. Their child, by the way is unable to breathe if he falls asleep due to Ondine’s Curse. Where Joanna avoids the confessional format, Nasza klątwa makes the absolute, brutal most of it. It's a hard and heartfelt tale of the rigors of parenting a disabled child. There is joy here as the family adapts, but don't mistake this for an easy watch.

Phew, we're done with the really tough stuff. JUST KIDDING. Do you know what La Parka is about? I'll tell you: a Mexican slaughterhouse worker who shoots five hundred bovine a day, and he's been doing it for twenty-five years. Oh, and he's not a total sadist. at one point he recounts a dream in which he's surrounded by animals who all just look at him before saying "It's your turn." It's a sharp, incisive look at the mental anguish of the guy who turns your kid's favorite animal* into your favorite meal.

White Earth is almost a joyful story of childhood by contrast. Our gaze is centered on children whose families have brought them to North Dakota chasing oil work. Their caretakers never have enough money, and they never have enough time. It's a calm, even take on what growing up in the social disruption of a boom town is like. 

I'm going to learn from my mistake last year and side against the culturally important films. La Parka is phenomenal and should be required viewing for anyone who eats meat. With an industry so divorced from its product in the mind of most consumers, this is a fantastic insight (see also: Leviathan). I'm not going to pick La Parka, though. Fortunately, siding with Joanna's poetry is the right thing to do. It is as beautiful and poignant as it is important to see death set aside until one is done living

Will win: Joanna
Should win: Joanna

*wait, were cows only my favorite animal?

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