For 17 years, Cincinnati World Cinema has been at the forefront of preaching the gospel of Academy Award-nominated short films. It presents separate programs that showcase the three categories in which Oscars are given for short films — live-action, animation and documentary. Generally, these offer a fascinating global slice of life.
On Friday and Saturday at Memorial Hall, CWC is offering two separate programs that showcase this year’s Documentary Shorts nominees. (A short is 40 minutes or less.) It would appear that in 2017, based on the nominees, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to look inward. After the previous year’s selections tackled international perspectives on immigration and war-ravaged lands, the current nominees concentrate on the domestic front.
Laura Checkoway’s Edith + Eddie is about the country’s oldest interracial newlyweds. There is a raw and almost unfinished quality to this short about the titular couple (she’s 96; he’s 95). They met while buying lottery tickets, fell in love, married and had to fight to remain together despite the efforts of Edith’s legal guardian to sell her home and move her to Florida (without Eddie). At its core, beyond the question of race, the legal dispute remains the central factor in Edith + Eddie.
In Heroin(e), director Elaine McMillion Sheldon settles among the folks of Huntington, W.V. as they wage a seemingly endless battle against the opioid epidemic. The film unassumingly details the stories of three important women in the community — a newly installed fire chief who has risen up from the ranks; a judge who metes out justice with an equal measure of mercy; and a street missionary who not only preaches the Good News but also celebrates it among those in need.
I love how Thomas Lennon’s Knife Skills plays like a mashup of Top Chef or Chopped and Law & Order. Set in Cleveland, the film realizes how the human stories, not the food angles, are the main ingredients that sustain viewers of cooking shows. Knife Skills documents how restaurant Edwins dared to transform itself into a world-class French eatery and a culinary school for formerly incarcerated men and women seeking a second chance.
Society tells us, especially in this social-media age, that the artist is sometimes her or his own greatest creation. Mindy Alper, the subject of Frank Stiefel’s Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, creates from her often-harrowing experiences as a means of reconciling personal truths. She has battled depression and anxiety her entire life and infused her drawings, paintings and sculptures with a vital self-awareness that has enabled her to survive and even thrive in situations that have laid waste to far too many.
In Traffic Stop, director Kate Davis takes advantage of available dashcam footage to reveal what happened to Breaion King, a 26-year-old female African-American schoolteacher whose routine encounter with officers of the law became a nightmare that will haunt her forever. All too often we hear about terrors around the globe and feel removed. This will show that horrors happen within our borders, too.
As a bonus to round out the two screening programs, CWC has added The Lincoln School Story from Cincinnati filmmaker Andrea Torrice, about the victorious efforts of African-American mothers and children who fought to integrate Hillsboro, Ohio schools in 1954. A lawsuit filed against the school board became the first northern test case to clarify the sweep of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional.
It bears reminding each year that the nominees in the Documentary Shorts category shouldn’t be viewed with a “which one’s best” competitive mindset. Each expose audiences to lives and experiences far beneath our daily radar, and we regain a missing piece of our humanity upon viewing them. So they win something more valuable than an award by having this opportunity for us to see them, and the filmmakers hopefully will be able to get additional opportunities to tell these kinds of stories.
The Oscar Short Docs programs screen at Memorial Hall on Friday (Program A at 6:30 p.m.; Program B at 9 p.m.) and Saturday (Program B at 4 p.m.; Program A at 7 p.m.). Tickets/more information: cincyworldcinema.org.