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Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films

Oscar-nominated Documentary Short Films
Rated NR
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 7pm.
Review by: Larry Thomas

It's time once again when Cincinnati filmgoers have the opportunity to take in something completely different. Cincinnati World Cinema is offering their annual presentation of the Oscar nominated documentary short films. Short films were a mainstay of the movie program for years, but things have changed in the business, and now the only way to see these unusual and powerful films is either on cable channels, home video, or the occasional grouping of shorts into a feature-length program. And even though such programs are a rarity in our town, it's still always better to see movies in a theatre with an audience.

The first film is also the 2007 Oscar winner: Ruby Yang's The Blood of the Yingzhou District. Director Yang and her crew spent a year in rural China to document the tragedy of Chinese orphans with AIDS. Thanks to that old pair of social curses, fear and ignorance, the residents shun these children just as lepers were shunned centuries ago. It's rough going for the viewer to realize what's happening to these children, but the film does offer a glimmer of hope through education and assistance from outside sources.

Recycled Life, made in Guatemala by director Leslie Iwerks, and narrated by Edward James Olmos, chronicles a sub-culture in Guatemala City that lives in and around the largest toxic waste dump in that country. They work the dump, which is seriously polluted and oozes methane gas, to salvage recyclables in order to survive. Not just men and women, but children, and sometimes whole families have lived this life for generations. As we meet some of the guajeros, as they are called, it's obvious that many take great pride in working hard to support themselves and their families. It's a dangerous and unhealthy life, but it's what they do. The film says a lot about out consumer-oriented, disposable society. In many ways, both society and the government see these people as being as disposable as the garbage.

Karen Goodman's Rehearsing a Dream looks at 150 of the country's most talented 17- and 18-year-old students in the arts. Through the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, they are given the opportunity to spend a week studying in their various disciplines with notable artists. Dancers study with Baryshnikov and Jacques d'Amboise; classical musicians with Michael Tilson Thomas; and so on. This is the polar opposite of the current craze of reality talent shows on television, and shows us how teenagers with a dream can achieve their goals. It manages to be both inspiring and entertaining, and is the best of the four nominated films.

The program closes with Two Hands, an up-close look at classical pianist Leon Fleisher. In 1964 at the peak of his career, he lost the use of his right hand, and spent 18 years in piano purgatory. He continued his career as both a conductor and teacher, but also performed in concert using works that had been written for the left hand alone. Through hard work and therapy, Fleisher eventually regains use of his right hand, and is still performing today. There's not a wasted moment in this, the shortest of the four films.


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