2018 Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Documentaries – Program B
2018, NR, 82 min. Directed by Various.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Feb. 9, 2018
It's hard to say whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that a short documentary just leaves you craving more of the story. That's the frustration of "Heroin(e)" and its gripping, heartbreaking depiction of the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic on Cabell County, W.V., the overdose capital of the U.S. Three women are on the front lines: Fire Chief Jan Rader, who spends far more time dealing with overdoses than she does dealing with flames; drug court Judge Patricia Keller, who runs her courtroom with jubilation for those staying clean, compassion for those relapsing; and Necia Freeman of Brown Bag Ministry, handing out food to prostitutes in the hope that will keep them off the streets for just one night. But 39 minutes is not enough time to encompass how massive this problem is. It's not director Elaine McMillion Sheldon's fault, but if a fraction of the $100 million that Rader estimates has been spent on health and law enforcement from the epidemic had gone into a documentary like this, maybe more people would know what's being talked about. It's the difference between Necia dropping a woman off at a shelter, and the beaten-down staff of Rader's Huntington Fire Department picking up a limp body from the floor of a convenience store. This shouldn't be a short documentary. It should be a multipart, mandatory-viewing series.
If the hope in "Heroin(e)" is for potential redemption, then "Knife Skills" is the dream fulfilled. Edwins Leadership & Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, is part of the wave of restaurants and catering schools that look to former prison inmates for staff. That just about every face they hire is black is a pointed reminder about the unbalance, bias, and gross unfairness in the prison system. With that context in mind, the sheer joy of seeing them – headed up by screwup turned restaurateur Brandon Edwin Chrostowski – embrace a life and a skill set that most of them never considered, is miraculous. As director Thomas Lennon makes it clear with vibrancy and mouthwatering kitchen photography, every mushroom Napoleon is a life saved. Maybe Cabell County can have an Edwins.