This weekend, Pittsburgh Filmmakers presents the Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films. These typically cover tough topics, and this year is no exception — though it should be noted these films seek out the positive side of humanity as much as they document its tragedies.
The documentary shorts will screen weekends in February at the Melwood. (You can still catch the other two Oscars shorts programs: The live-action and animated films play at Regent Square through Feb. 11, then move to the Harris, for a run through Feb. 18.) The total running time is 162 minutes, to be screened with an intermission.
Chau, Beyond the Lines (USA/Vietnam, 34 min.). Chau is a Vietnamese teenager, living in a care home for children, who were born with deformities as a result of Agent Orange. His dream is to be an artist, but with his twisted limbs, even the simplest drawing takes him days to accomplish. Courtney March’s film follows Chau through his early adult years, as he leaves the home and tries to fulfill his goal.
Last Day of Freedom (USA, 32 min.). Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman’s film takes the form of an animated work, as Bill Babbitt narrates the life story of his brother, Manny, who returned from Vietnam with PTSD. Manny later killed a woman, was convicted and executed by the state. Babbitt’s deeply personal narrative illuminates broader and still contentious issues, such as veterans in crisis, an unequal justice system and capital punishment.
Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (USA, 40 min.) Adam Benzine interviews the French filmmaker about the process of making Shoah, Lanzmann’s landmark 10-hour 1985 documentary about the Holocaust. There is some interesting behind-the-scenes material (how the crew used hidden cameras, and the process of tracking down scattered survivors). Lanzmann also reflects on the gargantuan undertaking, and its painful impact on him: “It didn’t relieve me from anguish.”
A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness (Pakistan, 40 min.). Sharmen Obaid-Chinoy’s work examines “honor killings” through the case of one young Pakistani girl, who was shot and dumped in a river by her father and uncle. Her crime: marrying a boy deemed beneath the family’s standing, thus besmirching the reputation of her father. She’s lucky in that she survives, but less so in seeking justice, where cultural mores trump criminal laws.
Body Team 12 (Liberia, 13 min.) The worst part about collecting the bodies claimed by the Ebola virus isn’t the transporting of the dead, but the comforting of the living. A team of Red Cross workers plead with grieving relatives to give up the body, so it can be safely disposed of and prevent more infections. It is unimaginably tough work, but the young Liberian woman profiled by director David Darg shoulders the burden as a patriotic duty — an investment in a better, stronger future for her country.