OSCAR-NOMINATED DOCUMENTARY SHORTS — 3 stars — not rated; Tower
If the animation and live-action programs weren’t enough to give you your Oscar-nominated shorts fix, or if documentaries are just more your style, this weekend the Salt Lake Film Society will be adding two additional program options to its slate in the run-up to this year’s Academy Awards.
Since the documentary shorts aren’t quite as “short” as the nominees for animation and live-action (they run closer to 30-40 minutes each, as opposed to 5-10 minutes), the Film Society has divided the collection into two programs — each program requiring its own ticket.
The total collection features a variety of engaging topics, and it isn’t hard to see why these shorts have been flagged for commendation. If you appreciate good (and often inspiring) stories, these are well worth a look.
Here’s what you can see from the collection:
"Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405" (40 minutes): This thoughtful documentary from Frank Stiefel profiles a middle-aged woman named Mindy Alper, who has used her artwork to cope with her mental illness. While we spend time with Mindy, her mother and other associates such as her art teacher, we get an intimate look at her life and struggle, along with flashes of Mindy’s impressive artwork, which ranges from pen and ink renderings that evoke the artwork of poet Shel Silverstein to impressive paper mache sculptures.
"Edith + Eddie" (29 minutes): Set in Virginia, Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright’s film is probably the most heartbreaking of the bunch. “Edith + Eddie” tells the sad story of an elderly couple who get pulled apart by the legal machinations of family. Edith and Eddie married in their 90s after sharing a lottery ticket, but due to Edith’s dementia diagnosis, her daughter is trying to sell her mother’s home and put her into assisted care in Florida.
"Traffic Stop" (30 minutes): According to IMDb, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s “Traffic Stop” uses personal interviews and dashcam footage to tell the story of a black schoolteacher in Texas who was arrested after a traffic stop. (A request to view “Traffic Stop” was not answered in time.)
"Heroin(e)" (39 minutes): Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s film profiles a trio of dedicated women trying to battle the drug crisis in Huntington, West Virginia, which maintains a uniquely high overdose rate. “Heroin(e)” follows a drug court judge, the leader of a brown bag program who gives food to people on the street and a member of the local fire department as they attack the problem from different angles. Sheldon’s film is a showcase of noble women who have truly lost themselves in the service of others.
"Knife Skills" (40 minutes): As good as the other documentary shorts are, “Knife Skills” may be the highlight — it’s easily the most unique. Thomas Lennon’s film goes behind the scenes at a French restaurant named Edwin’s in Cleveland that is exclusively staffed by ex-convicts. We pick things up several weeks before Edwin’s opens its doors, getting to know members of the crew as they struggle to learn to be chefs, hosts and managers while trying (and often failing) to keep their former lives at bay. This one is fascinating, heartbreaking and inspiring.
The programs aren’t officially rated, but aside from some scattered R-rated language in “Knife Skills” (mostly from the restaurant manager), the documentary content primarily falls in the PG/PG-13 range.