Sunday, February 24, 2013


For the umpteenth consecutive year, I attended the International Documentary Association’s DocuDay at the Writer’s Guild on Doheny yesterday.

The IDA presents all five Oscar-nominated documentary features and shorts, with Q&A’s with the filmmakers.

I was able to catch up on the last feature I needed to see, “5 Broken Cameras,” a boring and one-sided piece of anti-Israel agitprop (1 ½ stars out of 4). It’s not a pleasant feeling to be surrounded by people applauding a Palestinian director for a movie that portrays Jews as greedy, land-grubbing occupiers and never offers a contrary point of view.

This year’s crop of documentary shorts is decent, with no clearly weak links but no home runs, either. “Redemption” is ostensibly about the growing subculture of jobless New Yorkers who eke out their living by “canning,” collecting cans and bottles and redeeming them for a nickel apiece. It’s actually about the unemployment crisis that has twenty smart and resourceful people competing for cans on one city block.

“Inocente,” which comes from MTV and feels like it, is an overlong piece about an artistically talented homeless teenager in San Diego named Inocente, who leaves her immigrant mother and younger brothers to live and work at an art school. She prates on about her “goofy dreams” one time too many and ends up sounding like Nanny G.

The Florida retirement community Kings Point gives its name to a third short, which interviews half a dozen snowbirds about the lives they’ve fashioned for themselves away from their families. One woman says, “Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, you go to the Boynton Mall. Fridays, you go to the other mall. The rest of the time, you play mah-jongg. You make the best of life in Florida.”

A 6-year-old Rwandan girl named Angelique steals your heart – and the show – in “Open Heart,” an inspiring short about rheumatic heart disease. It was the number one killer of children in America 100 years ago but has been eradicated here, while in Rwanda they’re where we were a century ago. Only one hospital in Africa, a joint effort of an Italian NGO and the Sudanese government, offers the cardiac surgery that, if successful, saves the children’s lives.
We meet Angelique and seven of her fellow patients as they travel from Kigali to Khartoum to undergo the procedure, and the heroic (and, in typical Italian fashion, chain-smoking) doctor who performs it. If I had a ballot, I’d cast it for “Mondays at Racine,” about two sisters who own a New York beauty salon that, one Monday a month, opens its doors free of charge to cancer-stricken women undergoing chemotherapy. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking yet hopeful story of the strength and community of some very special women. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

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