REVIEW: Documentary short films

OUR_CURSE_stillIn the current issue of Dallas Voice, I preview the animated and live action short films, currently playing at Magnolia; the documentary shorts also screen this week, though for one-time-only showings at the Texas Theatre.

The shorts are divided into two programs — the first runs tonight at 7 p.m., and features two docs; the second on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. and features the other three. That’s a shame, because the best of the lot are in separate programs. It’s a toss-up between Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (showing tonight) and Our Curse (showing Sunday) as to which is the best … and which will win the Oscar.

Crisis is a profile of the folks who work at the Veterans Administration’s call center for vets suffering from PTSD. With minimal explanation, we listen into the counselors’ sides of stressful calls from suicidal men and women suffering from depression and shock — sometimes from their war experiences, sometimes from adjustments as civilians afterward. These are serious, painful calls met with calm and care by ordinary folks who do their best to save lives.

It contrasts with Our Curse, a hand-held documentary from Poland made by a married couple whose young son suffers from a devastating and incurable disease where he cannot breathe a night without use a ventilator. The stress it puts on their marriage — and their even-still devotion to a child who will never get better — is chilling and hopeful, dark and tender in turn. Don’t mistake it for Joanna, another Polish doc about a woman dying and trying to make her life seem as normal as possible to her young son. It’s not nearly as good (and screens with Crisis anyway).

THE_REAPER_stillThe remaining two films — both about 20 minutes — deal with unusual jobs: In White Earth, folks in North Dakota talk about the stressful necessity of working in the oil fields; in The Reaper, a title person acts as the point man at an abattoir, having butchered 500 cattle a day for the last 25 years. Being surrounded by death has taken its toll.

Expect Crisis to nudge out Curse at the Oscars — unlike the divisive reaction to American Sniper, this shows the effect of war without any political controversy — with White Earth a possible spoiler. Or see them for yourself and decide.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Ernest and Celestine’

ernest_hires1In the pencil-drawn, Oscar-nominated animated feature Ernest and Celestine, the world is divided into Us and Them: Above ground, the bears, who fear  mice; below, the mice, who fear bears. Their lives still have to intersect, however, as the entire rodent society is powered (a la Monsters, Inc.’s harvesting of children’s screams) by bear teeth, forcing child labor to explore the surface and gather dentures.

Celestine, though, doesn’t believe that bears are bad. She draws pictures of them in repose, and fantasizes that they may not be as bad as she’s been told. Enter Ernest, a good-natured bear who strikes up a begrudging friendship with Celestine: He helps her gather teeth, and then both are labeled criminals by the others’ culture.

Charming and predictable, E&C is a great kids’ movie that also has a notable moral: That of accepting others’ differences. Near the end, when Celestine plaintively declares that all she wants is to live with Ernest forever, you’ll get a lump in your throat, confronted with the bravery it takes to express a love not deemed “normal” by society. In light of the movement toward same-sex marriage, it’s a message that really resonates.

Playing at the Angelika Mockingbird Station in English and in French with subtitles at alternate screenings.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

QCinema screens ‘How to Survive a Plague’ free Thursday night

QCinema kicks of its 2013 season with a free screening (not $10 as usual!) of the Oscar-nominated chronicle of the fight against AIDS, How to Survive a Plague. It’s an excellent film, you really should see it, so get over to the Four Day Weekend Theater in Fort Worth by 6:30 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones