Review: 'Five Oscar-
Nominated Shorts'

Camera 3 Cinemas is showing six Oscar-nominated short films.
SKETCHY MEMORIES: In 'Last Day of Freedom,' one of five Oscar-nominated documentaries showing at Camera 3, Bill Babbitt looks back on the heinous crime his PTSD-stricken brother committed.

Four out of five of the Academy Award nominees for best short documentary have real stature. The fifth is the HBO Films-produced Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah by Adam Benzine.

It's a middling account of the prickly director of Shoah—a nearly 10-hour documentary about the Holocaust—which would be better suited as a bonus feature in a Blu-Ray re-release. One always bets on the Holocaust when filling out an Oscar pool; if this wins, it will overshadow four far more worthy choices.

Courtney Marsh's Chau: Beyond the Lines is the result of eight years spent with an inmate of a Vietnamese rural hospital full of grievous terata cases, many deformed beyond imagination. The birth defects were caused by America's "Operation Ranch Hand," the decade-long use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Chau, who has two mostly useless arms, and who walks on one knee and one ankle, has dreams of being an artist. These dreams were originally encouraged by a competition at Ho Chi Minh City's War Remnants Museum. Chau learns, like some paraplegic cases, how to draw with a pen in his mouth. Chau had also learned that there was an artist at his disability center who learned to paint with her feet: "Two can play at that game," he tells the camera. The open calculation of a competitive angle is honest. Going in that direction, a far more bitter documentary could have been made about the way the Vietnamese government plays up its ecological catastrophe, and allows tourists to snap pictures of the deformed.

The Vietnam war is the indirect subject of San Francisco artists Nomi Talisman and Dee Hibbert-Jones' wrenching Last Day of Freedom. It's a long interview with Bill Babbitt, the brother of Manny Babbitt, a PTSD-stricken Marine condemned to die after the infamous murder of a 78-year-old Sacramento woman. It's a mark of this short film's stature that it was entered as a documentary instead of an animated film, despite a rotoscoped animated format. In cartoon form, Babbitt pleads his brother's case better than the court-appointed lawyer did in real life—working through the guilt he feels for turning in his own brother. He's honest, but he excludes some of the details, such as the sexual assault Manny may have committed on the deceased.

The HBO-produced The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness is about a woman who survives her own honor killing. Saba Qaiser, who married a boy of her own choice in defiance of her family, nearly pays the ultimate price after her affronted father and her uncle shoot her in the face, stuff her in a bag, and throw her in a river. The victim says she owes her miraculous survival to the fact that her relatives swore on the Qu'ran not to hurt her. In her view, Allah interceded to save her.

Jailed and unrepentant, the two attempted honor-killers want Saba to legally forgive the matter, so that they can be freed. The police and the prosecution are frustrated as Saba is pressured to make the matter go away. In a depressing take on honor, the murderous dad boasts that, thanks to the new respect he gets in his neighborhood, his remaining daughters now all have suitors.

One turns with relief to the truly honorable Garmai Sumo of Liberia, who is the heroine of the short but tough Body Team 12. Sumo's team dresses in makeshift haz-mat suits to collect the dead killed by Ebola in Monrovia. The grieving survivors don't want to yield their loved ones to the crematoriums—a necessity to keep the hemorrhagic fever from spreading. Ms. Sumo's gentleness, patriotism and unshakable faith extend even to the friends who have abandoned her out of fear of contracting the lethal disease. This lady sets a new standard of courage.

Five Oscar-Nominated Shorts
NR; 163 Mins.
Camera 3, San Jose

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