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

DVD review: “Black Briefs” (2012)

Black Briefs (2012). Various directors. Now available.

If you go into Black Briefs expecting something about underwear, you’ve misinterpreted the “briefs” in the title — not that the company releasing it didn’t want you to make that mistake. Black Briefs wants to be thought of as sexy, though just as much, it’s occasionally just creepy and odd.

The short film format is a tricky one — it requires economy and a sense of purpose that’s difficult to master. The series of six films gets off to a weak start with an S&M themed film about a young gay guy getting a quick education (“Spring”), while “Remission” builds tension on its way to suggested torture porn that never comes together. But there’s something to like — even if it’s just sexiness — in “Winner Takes All” and “Promise,” and a few chills even in “Video Night.”

Worth a rent? More or less — some are better than others.

Rating: **1/2 (overall)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones