Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014: Documentaries, Program B
2014, NR, 85 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 7, 2014
Two short documentaries, each of which runs about 40 minutes, are included in this program. Each film introduces us to a memorable character.
”Cavedigger,” by Jeffrey Karoff, points its lens at a man named Ra Paulette, who carves out caves from the soft and ubiquitous sandstone found in northern New Mexico. It seems a singular artistic endeavor, even if it evokes visions of the Anasazi cave dwellings which dotted the area centuries ago. What Paulette carves, however, seems more fit for use as a cathedral than domicile. The carvings take years to complete and feature passageways, soaring walls into which designs are carved, and skylights that allow a person to have the anomalous sensation of being deeply underground yet exposed to the heavens. It goes without saying that Paulette is a man possessed by his visions – more an artist than a structural engineer, though what he does shares elements of both.
The other film in the program is “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall,” by Edgar Barens. Hall, who was a decorated soldier and POW during World War II, now spends his days in prison for life after murdering the person who sold his son drugs. Hall’s heart and lungs are failing, and we observe his last couple of weeks of life as the prisoner is moved from the infirmary to the prison hospice. A rare thing, this prison hospice is an exemplary model with its rogues’ gallery of life-term murderers who function as the unit’s loyal and sensitive caregivers.
Both documentaries feature intriguing characters, although they share a similar tendency to indulge their subjects. Tighter storytelling would probably enhance both shorts, but they receive extra credit for introducing us to characters who remain vivid after the lights come up in the theatre.