The 2018 Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts are playing at the Landmark West End in Washington DC this week, and so far this weekend shows have sold out. I attended the 4 PM screening yesterday, exiting to find two inches of snow even in Foggy Bottom. There was a brief five-minute intermission after the first three films, and the presentation ended at about 7:10 PM.
The most important film in my view was the last one, “Knife Skills”, by Thomas Lennon, 39 minutes. This film chronicles the training of the staff and opening of one of the nation’s proudest French restaurants, in Cleveland, Ohio: Edwins, on Shaker Square. What is so remarkable is that the owner, Brandon Chrostowski, is eager to staff his restaurants with people who have gotten out of prison. He sends 120 people after release through his cooking school (the Edwins Leadership and Restaurant Institute), but only a fraction make the cut. How many entrepreneurs want to do this? All the more, his wife has a new baby. In one scene, he cries.
The film resonated with me personally somewhat. I spent summers as a boy near Oberlin, and often went into Cleveland in the 50s and 60s, particularly to Indians’s baseball games in the old stadium (especially when the Senators were in town). Today my own relational ties are in the middle part of the state, and I have some knowledge of “small” business there. I can also remember an announced field trip to a French restaurant (in Washington) for French class in ninth grade.
The longest film has a curious title “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405”, by Frank Stiefel (40 min), shown third. The film starts out as if to be about Carmageddon, or maybe the recent wildfires, and in 2012 I stayed in the Angelino on the 405. But soon the film moves indoors, to tell us the story of a sculptor, Mindy Alper, who has a lifelong mental health struggle, and who speaks very slowly. She talks about her meds early on, and says she often throws up. But once we get into seeing her work, with the fascinating paper mache objects – animals and aliens – the film picks up.
Another film concerning medications is “Heroin(e)”, by Elaine McMillion Sheldon (39 minutes, shown fourth), from Netflix. It is set in Huntington, W Va, on the Ohio river, a town in which I spent a night myself in August 2016. It starts out by telling us that this is a blue collar town, where people have “real jobs” and get hurt at work. That’s where the opioid problem gets started. The film focuses on a sympathetic but firm lady judge in drug court – and she does send some people back to jail or to the general criminal court system – and to an EMS worker helping rescue people from overdoes, a mission of compassion.
The second film was “Edith+Eddie”, (Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright, 29 minutes, Kartemquin Films). At age 95, Eddie, a widower and white, marries a black woman, Edith, also 95, who has lived in the same house in Alexandria, Virginia for years. Unfortunately, Edith, who may have mild dementia, has been placed into conservatorship by her adult kids, and the guardian seems unsympathetic to “Loving”. She is forced to move to Florida, and in grief, Eddie soon collapses and passes away in intensive care. The film was interesting to me due to the long-winded experience I had with my own mother, who passed away (in Arlington) at the end of 2010 at age 97 after a two-year decline.
The first film, “Traffic Stop”, from HBO, directed by Kate Davis. An African-American math teacher Breaion King gets pulled over in a routine speeding stop in Austin, TX and winds up getting brutally handcuffed and arrested after a series of mistakes by both sides. The film contrasts her classroom grade school teaching scenes with her panic at the arrest, reconstructed from police videocam. This does seem like an argument about police profiling.
I’ll share also the 2-minute “Traffic Jam” by Reid Ewing (2012), that looks like it may gave been filmed near the 405 and 110. I’d love to see some of Reid’s other short films (“It’s Free”, etc) re-appear.
(Pictures: Kentucky, but near Huntington, mine, Aug 2018; Cleveland, mine, Aug. 2012)
(Posted: Sunday, February 18, 2018 at 11:15 PM EST)