Last year was all about war and refugees and people in peril a world away. This time it’s all about people here at home though still in peril. The films are slices of life. A mentally ill artist. A pair of star-crossed nonagenarians. A victim of police brutality. A town full of overdosing junkies. A culinary program for people just out of jail. Some are uplifting, but together they paint a pretty bleak picture of the U S of A. Try and see them on a big screen.

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Artist Mindy Alper is the subject of this sad and uplifting doc. She has more problems than anyone ought to have to endure. She’s been battling depression and OCD and a host of other mental illnesses for most of her life, her mother rejected her and her father was unable to tell her how he really felt about her, but she’s always been an amazing artist and that has probably saved her life. She’s a character and she’s engaging to watch. Her art is used as a counterpoint to a lot of her talking head interviews, and each gives you a deeper understanding of the other. This one would have my vote for Best Documentary Short.

Edith + Eddie
It’s the love story of 96-year-old Edith and 95-year-old Eddie. They marry very late in life and are happy together. But one of Edith’s daughters decides that Edith can’t take care of herself and forces her to leave Eddie behind and move to Florida to live with her. There’s a court appointed guardian who gets involved, siding with the daughter, and the whole this is ultimately very sad.

Traffic Stop
This is a ripped from the headlines documentary about an all too common overreaction of a white cop with an African-American woman he stopped for a simple traffic violation. The woman is a school teacher and the film pretty much cuts back and forth from the dash-cam video of him slamming her to the ground and abusing his power to her with her school kids and in her regular life. I was a bit disturbed by the film for the underlying message that she is a good person so this shouldn’t be happening. It shouldn’t happen to anyone no matter what. But if it leads to a discussion and change, then good for them. (It is an HBO Documentary Film and will be airing on HBO February 19th)

Trailer available at this link.

This film is also extremely timely. It’s about a small town in West Virginia, known sadly as the overdose capital of America. The film follows three women who are on the front lines trying to make a difference there – a fire chief, a drug court judge and the head of an outreach ministry. They are truly heroes, and the people they help are appreciative, but as the film notes, this is happening everywhere and a lot more needs to be done. It is an eye-opening and depressing film and I suspect the real stories are much grittier than seen here. It’s on Netflix.

Knife Skills
This would be my second favorite of the short docs. It’s about a program in Cleveland that trains men and women just out of prison to work in a high end French restaurant. It follows several of the culinary wannabes as they train in the skills they’d need to become real chefs. They don’t all make it through, but it is a great program and a heartwarming story for the most part. And I’d love to eat there!

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