Joanna - Aneta Kopacz
Our Curse - Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
The Reaper - Gabriel Serra Arguello
White Earth - J. Christian Jensen
The documentary short subject films are usually a diverse set from around the world ranging a broad set of topics. This year's crop is no different.
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is a high intensity experience as we see the counselors at the nation's only suicide hotline specifically devoted to military veterans and current service people. These helpers give a new meaning to the word dedicated, not only talking to those who are suffering and trying to secure their immediate safety, but also following up, tracking them down if they hang up, and badgering law enforcement (in the best sense) to get them on scene, as necessary. It is an emotional roller coaster for both the callers and the helpers, and a shining example of the documentary short at its finest.
Joanna follows a woman as she battles terminal cancer. She has a very special relationship with her son, and her very supportive husband is strong by her side. She is a difficult subject for a documentary, because she is not a big talker, and naturally, we want more of a narrative as we watch. However, with that criticism in mind, the striking thing about the film is how many important conversations are shown without the audio for the dialogue. We only see people's authentic reactions. We realize that what is important is not what is said, but what is felt.
Our Curse was the most difficult of the five for me to watch. It follows the first year of life as a couple adapt to life with their newborn who has a deadly congenital lung disease. Where new parents would struggle with changing diapers, this couple struggles with changing throat tubes which are plugged in to a breathing machine while the baby sleeps. The couple, who look like Gael Garcia Bernal and Kate Hudson look alikes, film both moments caring for the baby and quiet moments on the couch where they ponder what their lives will look like now and into the future.
The Reaper follows a slaughterhouse in Mexico and the man whose job it is to actually kill the cows, all day every day, which he has done for 25 years. It juxtaposes the bringer of death as also the sustainer of life for his 5 kids who are not in desperate poverty thanks to his job. This film was a little artsy for my taste, and when a short subject documentary feels too long, it's clear that more story would do better than so much filming of walls and shoes and settings.
White Earth is the film that I least appreciated of the five. It follows four people whose families have moved to a very small town in North Dakota (White Earth) in order to take advantage of job opportunities related to oil drilling. The interesting part of the film is that it provides another view of the oil industry beyond the debates about the environment.