Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts

"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"
After viewing the Oscar nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts at Time and Space Limited in Hudson, NY, I was determined to see the nominated Documentary Shorts. Last year I tried to, but it didn't work out. The five films are divided into two programs and Upstate Films screwed up the order so I wound up only see two of the five. So this year after two attempts to get into sold-out screenings at IFC Center in Manhattan, I finally succeeded. (The programs were shown in a tiny screening room which only sat about 75 people, so on a weekend it tends to fill up pretty quickly.)

Three of the films had a common thread: dealing with old age. The Lady in Number 6 focuses on a 109-year-old Holocaust survivor who still plays classical piano for hours every day in her London flat. Despite having been sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp by the Nazis and losing her only son, another survivor, when he was 64, she maintains a positive outlook. In Cavedigger, a sculptor of cave environments in his mid-60s commits to use his few remaining active years to create his magnum opus. In contrast to these two inspiring portraits, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall is a much grimmer picture of a senior facing mortality. The 84-year-old Hall is serving a life sentence for murdering the drug dealer who got his dead son hooked. This shattering 40-minute film follows Hall's last days as he enters the prison hospice. We find out from the dying man's surviving son something of the man's history--a soldier in World War II, Jack was an alcoholic who never really got over spending time in a harrowing German prisoner of war camp. Director Edgar Barens' camera objectively views Hall's wasted naked body, covered with lewd tattoos, as his fellow prisoners lovingly bathe and care for him.

The other two films focus on violence in differing degrees. Karama Has No Walls documents the slaughter of innocent protesters in Yemen while Facing Fear portrays the unlikely friendship between a gay man and the former neo-Nazi who nearly beat him to death.

If I were an Academy member, Prison Terminal would get my vote. It used to be that whatever film in this category dealt with the Holocaust was the automatic winner, so The Lady in Number 6 might be the likely Oscar-getter. But I am going for Prison Terminal which has a more immediate and intimate view of death and a powerful impact.

Of the feature documentaries, I've seen two, both on Netflix--Cutie and the Boxer and Dirty War. There are three political docs--Dirty War, The Act of Killing and The Square. The other two follow artists who are either poor (married artists struggling to make the rent with their latest joint show in Cutie and the Boxer) or neglected (back-up singers in Twenty Feet from Stardom). Stardom is the best known and the likely winner, it's also the only one not available on Netflix. You have to pay for it on Amazon, so that shows it's more in demand.

Seeing all these films makes the Oscars more meaningful for me. Someday I'll actually see all the nominated films including all the foreign-language ones. (Haven't seen any this year.)


No comments:

Post a Comment